The Warner Archive has released the highly enjoyable 1975 caper film Inside Out and it should appeal to fans of both The Italian Job (the good version from '69!) and Kelly's Heroes. The wisecracking cast of old pros is topped by Telly Savalas, Robert Culp and James Mason. The latter plays the commandant of a German POW camp in which Savalas was interred. He tracks Savalas down thirty years later and finds him as a high-living con-man in London whose luck has run out. He entices him to participate in an audacious scheme to infiltrate a maximum security prison in Berlin to locate its sole inhabitant: a former high ranking Nazi who has knowledge of where a stolen shipment of German army gold has been hidden for decades. The elaborate plan involves drugging the prisoner, smuggling him out of jail, convincing him he is back in WWII (complete with Hitler impersonator!), getting the necessary information and then smuggling him back inside the jail. Obviously, if logic matters tremendously to you, this isn't your kind of movie. However, if you're able to suspend belief for a few scenes, you'll find this a highly rewarding and very entertaining film. Ironically, the central absurdity- that the Allies would have an entire heavily guarded prison simply to watch over one inmate- is based on fact, as this was precisely the case with Hitler top henchman Rudolf Hess, who was the only inmate of Spandau prison. The three leads are all in top form, as is Aldo Ray, who seems to be in virtually every movie released by the Warner Archive. Director Peter Duffell gets maximum impact from locations in London, Amsterdam and Berlin. The movie moves along at breakneck pace and has some genuinely suspenseful sequences, not to mention some very amusing dialogue. A good bet for all true retro movie lovers. (The DVD is region-free).
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
set tensions between stars or between stars and directors are about as old as
the Lumiere Brothers. Sometimes that friction can have a negative consequence
on the project and sometimes it can be a positive. The Robert Redford vehicle
“Little Fauss And Big Halsy” is one of those odd examples where the tensions
yielded both positive and negative results. The antagonism that Redford
reportedly felt towards co-star Michael J Pollard certainly helps inform their
performances in the second half of the film, but the differing ideas that
Redford and director Sidney J. Furie had for handling the movie's thematic
material creates a frisson that undermines the final film. Even if you were
unaware of the differing motivations of Redford and Furie, you couldn't help
but suspect that something was up between the two.
begin with, “Little Fauss And Big Halsy” is fairly thin on plot. Itinerant
motocross racer Halsy Knox (Redford) wanders from town to town, scraping
together whatever he can to get to the next race. After an accident breaks the
leg of Little Fauss (Pollard) and gets his racing license suspended, Halsy
persuades Little to let him race under his name while tagging along as his
mechanic. The arrangement seems to work for a while until Rita Nebraska (Lauren
Hutton) joins the pair on their travels. Tired of being offered breadcrumbs
from Halsy's plate, Little walks away after Halsy tries to pass Rita to him as
just another leftover scrap. Rita later engineers something of a reconciliation
between the two, but that turns out to be even more fragile than their initial
it may share some surface similarities with 1969's “Winning” (starring
Redford's “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” co-star Paul Newman), “Little
Fauss And Big Halsy” is clearly smack dab in the center of the boom of films
exploring the then-current aimlessness of the American spirit that came in the
wake of “Easy Rider” released the previous year. Director Furie cut his teeth
on Cliff Richards rock and roll musicals before graduating to thrillers like
“The Ipcress Files” and “The Naked Runner.” Nothing on his resume would suggest
that he would be a good fit for the material- and that is born out in the
finished film, which feels like he is trying to make a racing picture. With
Redford more interested in plumbing the psychology of Halsy, the two differing
approaches don't jell very well. And with Furie more focused on the incidences
in the screenplay than exploring the characters who inhabit it – big events in
the characters' lives such as the death of a parent happen off-screen and only
get a passing mention on-screen – it falls to a string of Johnny Cash tunes on
the soundtrack to hold the often episodic proceedings together.
being a rather unsympathetic character on the page, Redford's breezy charm
still makes the character one you want to see coming out on the winning side.
And that performance becomes a necessity if the film's ending – sorry, no
spoilers - is to have any impact at all. Pollard's Little is just the right
combination of naivete, twitchiness and fumbling social graces to be endearing.
He manages to shade his performance with enough subtlety that it is only in
hindsight do we see his growing frustration with Halsy that culminates with
their falling out. Hutton makes the most of her underwritten role, fleshing it
out (and flashing a bit of flesh in the process) more so than one would expect
from an actor relatively new to the profession.
Film's new Blu-ray release of “Little Fauss And Big Halsy” marks the first time
that the film is available in a digital home video format and for the first
time in its original theatrical aspect ratio in the US. The transfer is
relatively crisp and clean with no real apparent defects or scratches. It
definitely shows off the dusty browns of the film's California desert
towns as captured by cinematographer
Ralph Woolsey. Those looking for anything beyond the movie though are bound to
be disappointed as the disc is bare-bones with not a single trailer, featurette
or commentary track to enrich the experience.
There are so few good roles nowadays for older actresses that any film that defies this sorry practice is more than welcome no matter how modest its pleasures may be. "Wild Oats" is a recent comedy starring two Oscar winners: Shirley MacLaine and Jessica Lange and directed by Andy Tennant. It speaks volumes that the movie was barely released theatrically and to date has amassed a boxoffice gross of $22,000, indicating it played an abbreviated run in one theater probably to fulfill contractual requirements. It's a pity because "Wild Oats", which sometimes plays more like a saucy sitcom episode than a feature film, does offer a number of delightful elements, the most obvious being good roles for the two leading ladies. MacLaine plays Eva, a recently widowed elderly woman who is facing a bleak financial future. Her husband's life insurance policy is worth only $50,000 and she is already struggling with the costs of day-to-day living along with the inescapable frailties that come with age. Her best friend Maddie (Jessica Lange), although younger, is facing dilemmas of her own. After enduring a loveless, sexless marriage for many years, her husband has just dumped her for his 25 year-old secretary. The two women commiserate with each other and appear to be consigned to a rather joyless view of their so-called "Golden Years". Then a quirk of fate changes everything. When the life insurance check arrives, Eva notices that it has been accidentally made out for $5 million instead of $50,000. At the urging of Maddie, the normally conservative Eva does something she once would have found unthinkable: she deposits the money in her bank account and then sets out to spend as much as she can so that she and Maddie can have one last big fling, the consequences be damned. They end up in a fabulous resort in the Canary Islands where they indulge in every type of pampering imaginable. They add to their winnings when they unexpectedly strike gold in the hotel casino and place the jackpot of $450,000 in cash a safe inside their suite.
While living the high life and spending the insurance loot like drunken sailors, Eva and Maddie draw the attention of Chandler (Billy Connolly), a charming, erudite British man whose eccentricities appeal to them. He squires them about the island and before long reawakens Eva's dormant sexual desires. Similarly, Maddie has an encounter with a twenty-something hunk named Chip (Jay Hayden) who she quickly seduces and ends up almost crippling during some intense sexual encounters. The film's non-too-subtle message to its intended audience- older women- is that just because you collect a Social Security check doesn't mean that you can't be vivacious. The film's sub-title could well be "Revenge of the Cougars". It doesn't give much away to point out that Chandler turns out to be a con man who absconds with the ladies' casino winnings. This plot device is obvious from minute one. Meanwhile, an insurance investigator, Vespucci (Howard Hessman in fine form) tracks Eva to the island and tells her she must return the insurance money or go to jail. Eva, Maddie and Vespucci need to track down Chandler and get back the casino winnings in order to compensate for what they've already spent of the insurance funds. It's at this point that the film goes off coursewith the trio tracing Chandler to the villa of a much-feared local crime baron, Carlos (Santiago Segura), whose tough guy image is shattered when they discover he is actually a nerd who is perpetually hen-pecked by his young wife. The shtick involving Carlos brings a level of surrealism to the film. Such scenarios can sometimes work, as in the case of "The In-Laws", but here it plays out in an over-the-top fashion that undermines what had been until now a believable premise. Things get back on track in the final act in which the story provides a Hallmark-style, feel-good ending that nevertheless leaves a couple of holes in the plot.
"Wild Oats" plays out like a glorified TV movie from the Lifetime cable channel, albeit with better production values and a more impressive cast. Its pleasures may be modest but there is great satisfaction in seeing two excellent actresses in strong, well-written roles and they deliver the goods. (It should be noted that Demi Moore is criminally wasted in an under-written role as Eva's daughter). Director Andy Tennant keeps the proceedings going at a brisk pace and allows for some poignant sequences that speak to the down side of the aging process. The movie is about the rejuvenation of body and soul and will hopefully get a second chance to find its audience through the DVD release from Anchor Bay. The transfer is great but the release is devoid of any extras. It's a pity because the cast appears to have had the time of their lives making this movie and it would have been great to have them discuss it on a commentary track. Although the movie is clearly geared to an older female audience, it's hard to imagine anyone who won't appreciate seeing MacLaine and Lange in top form.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Mad Max fans will have something to put atop
their holiday gift lists with the Mad Max High Octane Collection,
debuting December 6 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (WBHE). All four
films from visionary director George Miller’s blockbuster sci-fi franchise -- Mad Max (1979); Mad Max 2:
The Road Warrior (1981); Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985);
and MadMax: Fury Road (2015), now with Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky
-- are together in one collection.
The Mad Max High Octane Collection is
available to own in both Blu-ray ($79.99 SRP) and DVD ($54.97 SRP)
versions. Both collections include the four films and five hours of bonus
content, including the visually stunning Mad Max: Fury Road “Black
& Chrome” Edition. The Blu-ray collection will also include a 4K-Ultra HD
version and a UV Digital Copy of Mad Max: Fury Road.
The Mad Max: Fury Road “Black & Chrome
Edition” will also be available on Blu-ray
($29.98 SRP) in a two film collection including the theatrical version of the
film and a special introduction by George Miller describing his vision.
High Octane Collection Special Features and Additions:
NEW! *Fury Road “Black & Chrome” Edition –
Witness the surreal black and white version of mastermind George Miller’s Fury
NEW! *George Miller Introduction to the Mad Max Fury
Road: Black and Chrome Edition – Special introductory piece by George
Miller describing his vision.
NEW! Road War – In 1982, the world was
blindsided by George Miller’s masterpiece of apocalyptic destruction: The
Road Warrior. For the first time ever George Miller, Terry Hayes and star
Mel Gibson tell the story of the car-crushing production that redefined action
Madness of Max – The previously released Mad Max (1979)
documentary is a feature-length documentary on the making of arguably the most
influential movie of the past thirty years. With over forty cast-and-crew
interviews, hundreds of behind-the-scenes photographs and never-before-seen
film footage of the shoot, this is, without a doubt, the last word on Mad Max (1979).
Interviews include: George Miller, Byron Kennedy, Mel Gibson, Hugh Keays-Byrne,
Steve Bisley, Roger Ward, Joanne Samuel, David Eggby, Jon Dowding and many
more. From the Producers to the Bike Designers to the Traffic Stoppers, this is
the story of how Mad Max was made.
Mad Max: Fury Road Two Film Collection
Special Features and Additions:
NEW! *George Miller Introduction to the Mad Max Fury
Road: Black and Chrome Edition – Special introductory piece by George
Miller describing his vision.
About The Films
Mad Max (1979)
George Miller's first entry in the trilogy, Mad Max packs
brutal action and insane stunts as it follows the inevitable downfall of
relentless cop Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) in a world gone mad.
Living on the edge of an apocalypse, Max is ready to run far away
from it all with his family. But when he experiences an unfortunate encounter
with a motorcycle gang and its menacing leader, the Toecutter, his retreat from
the madness of the world is now a race to save his family's life.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1982)
The sequel to Mad Max, Mad Max 2:
The Road Warrior provides action-packed “automotive” entertainment,
telling the story of a selfish-turned-selfless hero and his efforts to protect
a small camp of desert survivors and defend an oil refinery under siege from a
ferocious marauding horde that plunders the land for gasoline.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Mel Gibson returns for his third go-round as the title
hero who takes on the barbarians of the post-nuclear future - and this time
becomes the savior of a tribe of lost children. Music superstar Tina Turner
co-stars as Aunty Entity, a power-mad dominatrix determined to use Max to
tighten her stranglehold on Bartertown, where fresh water, clean food and
gasoline are worth more than gold.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Haunted by his turbulent past, Mad Max (Tom
Hardy) believes the best way to survive is to wander alone. Nevertheless, he
becomes swept up with a group fleeing across the Wasteland in a War Rig driven
by an elite Imperator, Furiosa (Charlize Theron). They are escaping a Citadel
tyrannized by the Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), from whom something
irreplaceable has been taken. Enraged, the Warlord marshals all his gangs and
pursues the rebels ruthlessly in the high-octane Road War that follows.
It’s 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. The nation is
nervous about the possibility of another bombing raid by the Japanese, and
nobody is more nervous about that possibility than Champ Larkin (James Craig)
and his pal Jimbo (Frank Jenks), two convicts doing time on Alcatraz. Champ’s a
pretty self-centered guy. He isn’t at all concerned about the war. It’s none of
his business. “If they want to fight, let ‘em fight.” he says. “Theres a law
says they can’t draft convicts. We’ll sit this one out.” (Jimbo’s a little more
thoughtful. “I don’t know, Champ,” he says. “Anybody pulls a sneak trick like
that is a rat and a rat means trouble here and there.”)
When they see some Zeros coming in over the Pacific to do
a flyover of San Francisco, Champ decides it’s time to evacuate. As he says in
his voice-over narration, “It ain’t easy breaking out of Alcatraz, and we can’t
tell you how we did it because it’s a professional secret. But we had two
things going for us. A blackout and a heavy fog.”
They try to swim to San Francisco in the dark but don’t
get far before the cops start shooting at them from a patrol boat. Luckily
there is a wooden crate floating in San Francisco Bay that night and they hide
inside it. The crate, by the way, and by sheer chance, has the name H. Schlom
stamped on it, which is some kind of inside joke, since Herman Schlom from
1940-52 was producer of second features for RKO, and was producer of “7 Miles from Alcatraz.” They
elude the cops but drift out under the Golden Gate Bridge and land at a
lighthouse seven miles from the prison.
Living in the lighthouse are the lighthouse keeper,
Captain Porter (George Cleveland), his daughter Anne (Bonita Granville), a
comic relief guy named Stormy (Cliff Edwards, the voice of Jiminy Cricket), and
radio man Paul Brenner (Erford Gage). Champ and Jimbo take over the lighthouse
and hold the inhabitants prisoner. At first Champ, who hasn’t seen a woman in
five years, seems more interested in getting to know Anne better than continuing
with his escape. But, in the meantime, Brenner, the radio man, is receiving
coded message that he pretends he can’t understand. It turns out he’s working
with a small cell of German spies (Tala Birell, John Banner, [otherwise known
as Sgt. Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes], and Otto Reichow), who are hiding in San
Francisco, and are awaiting Brenner’s arrival by boat to ferry them out to the
lighthouse, which they’re going to use as a landing point for a U-boat coming
in through the Bay. Whew, I need to get my breath after that line.
When there’s another blackout, Champ decides it’s time to
split. He and Jimbo want to take the lighthouse keeper’s boat and take off, but
the lights come back on before they can get away. Things get further complicated
when the Nazis get another boat and arrive at the lighthouse. At first it looks
bad for the good guys, but Champ, being the self-centered cad that he is,
strikes a bargain with the Germans that will allow Jimbo and him to get out of
the country on the sub. Of course things go awry, and when Anne is placed in
danger, good old Champ, who’s quickly grown rather fond of the old girl, shows
his true colors and decides he won’t stay out of the fight after all. He springs
into action against the spy trio and sends the coordinates of the sub’s
location to the coast guard.
Well, it’s all pretty silly, but it’s entertaining in a
quaint sort of way, if you don’t mind the preposterous plot. The only really
noteworthy thing about it is that it was the first feature film Edward Dmytryk
directed for RKO Radio Pictures. You gotta start somewhere, right?
“Seven Miles from Alcatraz” is a low budget World War II
propaganda film released by the Warner Archive Collection in a bare-bones,
no-extras DVD. Picture and sound are okay, but nothing remarkable, which pretty
much sums it all up. If you’re a big fan of James Craig (and who isn’t) or
Bonita Granville (there may be a few still alive), an Edward Dmytryk
completist, or you just like lighthouses, this one’s for you.
By the late 1960s many popular actors found that their family-friendly trademark films were going the way of the dinosaur. Elvis Presley's popularity on screen waned thanks to Colonel Parker's Svengali influence that saw him block The King's desires to expand into meaningful dramas. Don Knotts, whose low-budget Universal comedies were hugely popular, lost much of his audience when he added some sexual elements to "The Love God?" Equally affected was Doris Day, a genuine cinematic legend who, only a few years earlier, could be counted on to bring in big bucks at the box-office through her romantic comedies. The running gag was that Day always played goodie-goodie characters (one comedian quipped "I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin!") This was not entirely true. Day often played mature women who were either married or quite modern in their views of sexual relationships. Still, she was never less than wholesome even in her pursuit of romance. However, as the Sixties neared an end the sweeping changes in popular culture, spurred by the new wave of rock artists, extended into cinema as well. Doris knew her day was over on the big screen. She had a lifeline of sorts but she tossed it away when she refused to play the role of Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate". Her manipulative husband, Martin Melcher, wanted to wring the last few dollars out of her film career and often coerced her into starring in middling projects that she had little enthusiasm for. Her final role as a leading lady on the big screen came in 1968 in the comedy "With Six You Get Eggroll" (you have to see it to understand the relevance of the title.) The film is a factory-made concoction that uses the well-worn trappings of other recent films that tried to combine traditional Hollywood elements with the burgeoning youth market and the new cinematic realism that was all the rage. Generation Gap comedies were churned out by studio executives in an attempt to capture the market for both older and teenage movie-goers. The highly popular "Yours, Mine and Ours" had immediately preceded "Eggroll"'s release and the desperate-to-be-hip"The Impossible Years" would open a month later. They all played like extended sit-coms but did offer up legendary actors in starring roles. "Eggroll" is as nondescript as the other films in this peculiar niche but it isn't without its simple, unpretentious pleasures.
The most refreshing aspect of the movie is the one-and-only teaming of Doris Day and Brian Keith, who was then starring in his own popular sit-com "Family Affair", a sugary confection that is all but unwatchable today. Yet Keith had a raw masculinity that allowed him to excel in playing both light comedy and gritty men of action. In any event, he and Day make for a likable twosome. The familiar story line finds Day as Abby McClure, a widowed mother of an 18 year-old son Flip (John Findlater) who has just graduated high school and his two very young brothers. Abby seems content trying to cope with being a single mother as well as that rarest of species in 1968: a successful businesswoman. (She is the hands-on owner of a thriving construction firm.) It's all she can do to fulfill her responsibilities to both her business and her family, which gives the otherwise dated script a somewhat topical element that many women of today can identify with. Abby's sister (Pat Carroll) keeps needling her about the need to find a new boyfriend and potential husband and contrives a meeting with Jake Iverson (Brian Keith), a widower with a teenage daughter Stacey (Barbara Hershey). Abby and Jake have known each other on a casual basis for years but sparks do fly when they meet up at an otherwise disastrous house party Abby hosts. Most of the film covers predictable turf: Abby and Jake decide to get married but their bliss is short-lived when they realize that the blending of two families causes major personality conflicts between Flip and Stacey. Additionally, both teens take pride in the fact that they had been relied on heavily by their parent and feel threatened by the presence of a new spouse who might usurp their adult responsibilities. The constant fighting extends to jealousy about what house they all reside in so, to keep the peace, Abby and Jake devise an cumbersome plan where the family alternates their abode every night. Abby and Jake also find they have very little quality time together and a running gag has them sneaking away to a late night coffee house drive-in where they are greeted with familiarity and plenty of wise-cracks by one of the servers, played by up-and-coming comedy legend George Carlin. The gags are all familiar and highly predictable but director Howard Morris, himself a noted comedic actor, keeps the action moving at a brisk pace and prevents blandness from turning into boredom. At times the movie threatens to become almost poignant when it examines the challenges of blending two families together under one roof with the kids having no choice but to accept a new mom/dad. One scene, in which Abby finally breaks through and earns respect from Stacey, is actually quite touching. However, the finale delves into absurdity when a wild car chase ensues that encompasses some lovable hippies (two of whom are played by future "M*A*S*H" TV stars Jamie Farr and William Christopher.) Whenever family films of this era attempted to present members of the Flower Power movement, the results were generally cringe-inducing and this is no exception. The final scene has a chaotic mess in which everyone converges on a police station- a scenario that I believe I have seen played out about a dozen times in similarly-themed films of this time period.
Despite its flaws, "With Six You Get Eggroll" is never as bad as you probably fear it will be. The sets are cheesy and poorly lit and the laughs somewhat meager, but I found myself enjoying seeing the teaming of Doris Day and Brian Keith. The mind reels at what the possibilities might have been if they had been cast in a mature adult romance. The only hints we have are a few topical references to sex that occasionally surface in the movie. This type of innocent comedy would be all-but-gone by the time Bob and Carol got into bed with Ted and Alice the very next year. Ms. Day would go on to star in a hit sitcom that ran for years before virtually retiring from show business and the public eye (though she did re-emerge with a cable TV show in the 1980s dedicated to her life's passion: caring for animals.) Keith would go on to star in some very worthy films, among them "The McKenzie Break" and "The Wind and the Lion" and scored a hit with the tongue-in-cheek action series "Hardcastle and McCormick". "Eggroll" is elevated from sheer mediocrity by their presence in the film.
"With Six You Get Eggroll" is available as a bare-bones DVD from Paramount.
While navigating through the labyrinth of
collectibles, comic books, and dealer tables at the New York Comic Con this
past October, I came upon a vendor selling copies of old horror films. As is usual,
I had to stop for a moment and thumb through the boxes of DVDs and Blu-rays
labeled simply as “Classic Horror.” There were, of course, the standard bearers
that you would expect to find; such black and white Universal classics as The Wolfman (1941) and Frankenstein (1931), as well as such latter-age
British horror favorites as Vincent Price’s Theatre
of Blood (1973).
Continuing to flip through the boxes, I was
surprised to see The Horrible Dr.
Hichcock (1964), a mostly obscure Italian horror film that I had never had
the opportunity to see. In truth, I’d
never even heard of the film before – and before you scold me for my ignorance,
please keep in mind I’m only nineteen years old. Even Jason and Freddy Krueger are old-school
to me. Still, I admit my immediate
thought was that this copy of The
Horrible Dr. Hichcock was likely misplaced. Was this little known film deserving of having been sandwiched between the
revered classics of Universal and Hammer Studios?
Shortly afterwards, the Olive Films Blu-ray of The Horrible Dr. Hichcock dropped into
my mailbox. Now that I’ve finally gotten the chance
to watch the film, I realize the suspenseful and eerie tale is indeed a worthy addition
to the canon of “Classic Horror.”
Olive Films new Blu-ray release of The Horrible Dr. Hichcock brings – if
you excuse the expression – “new life” to this now half-century old and
unsettling melodrama. Dr. Bernard Hichcock
(Robert Flemyng) seems an OK guy. He’s a
celebrated and much admired surgeon, but also a tortured soul hiding a perverse
secret. He’s completely given to necrophilic
fantasies, of which his wife Margaret (Teresa Fitzgerald) is strangely
accepting and willing to indulge her husband’s strange desires. However, things
take a tragic turn when the not-so-good Dr. unintentionally kills her with an accidental
overdose of the anesthetic, emphasizing that there can in fact be too much of a
The film then flashes forward several years. Dr.
Hichcock returns from a long absence from the village, returning to his old stately
home with a new paramour: the understandably jittery Cynthia (played by Italian
“Scream Queen” Barbara Steele of Black
Sunday and Nightmare Castle fame).
It isn’t long before things again turn weird as Cynthia begins to see the
apparition of Hichcock’s former wife walking the estate grounds. She is tormented by the spirit.
Despite the film’s somewhat confusing plotline,
the movie possesses what I like to call “the Universal Horror aesthetic.” The film is rife with the atmospheric
elements I look forward to in every classic horror film: eerie fog, misty graveyards,
a creaking near-abandoned manor, and a devilish doctor who, more likely than
not, is up to something no good. As these elements are all welcomingly in place
here, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock was deservedly
slotted in the “Classic Horror” section at Comic Con. Or perhaps it was the
moments of suspense and mystery that, when moodily combined with Roman Vlad’s ominously
eerie score, left me guessing about who (or what) might be waiting behind every
corner of the dreary house.
There are many such memorable moments of mystery
and apprehension in The Horrible Dr. Hichcock.I found the film somewhat reminiscent of The House on Haunted Hill and The Haunting, as there are so many
twists that the audience is constantly forced to change their minds about what might
happen next. Whether due to a less than cohesive script or specific choices
made by director Robert Hampton to keep things from being too formulaic, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock succeeds in
keeping the audience engrossed and guessing. Though I found the ending to be
slightly confusing – some elements of the film’s story threads were not explained
to my satisfaction – this is a movie that’s worthy of a second viewing.Until then, I am content to say that The Horrible Dr. Hichcock has definitely
earned a place of honor in my personal library of classic horror.
from the point of view of an idealistic and patriotic German boy from high
school graduation and military basic training to the trenches of WWI
battlefields, “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a classic tale of the horrors
of war. Written by Erich Maria Remarque and published in
1929, the German WWI veteran based the novel on his own experiences in the
trenches of WWI. A Hollywood movie quickly followed staring Lew Ayres as Paul.
Produced and released in Hollywood by Universal, it was awarded the Best
Picture and Best Director Oscars for 1930, a few short years before the rise of Adolf Hitler who banned the book and
Fifty years after the novel’s release, a
made-for TV movie was broadcast on American TV in November 1979. It starred
Richard Thomas as Paul Baumer, who was fresh off the hit TV series “The
Waltons” when he went to work on this movie which is not so much a remake as it
is a new adaptation of the classic book. The wide-eyed innocence of Thomas, who
was in his late twenties at the time, works well in his interpretation of Paul as
he transforms from German patriot seeking adventure to disillusioned soldier
tired of war.
movie follows Paul, a thoughtful and likable student who enjoys art, literature
and intellectual conversations; as he joins his friends who become soldiers at
the outbreak of the war. His school teacher, Donald Pleasence as Kantorek, is
an outspoken patriot who urges Paul to join the army. Paul and his friends, the
local postman, Himmelstoss (Ian Holm), as they bully him and knock him to the
ground for not serving in the army. We also meet Paul’s mother, played by
Patricia Neal (Thomas’ mother in the TV pilot for “The Waltons” TV series - the
Christmas classic, “The Homecoming”) saying his goodbyes to his family before
heading off with his friends to their military training.
Paul and his friends arrive at basic training, they’re met by now Army Corporal
Himmelstoss who has not forgotten their cruelty toward him and returns it to
them during their training. I never got the sense that Himmelstoss was overtly
cruel during the training sequences. All basic trainees wish they were
elsewhere during boot camp, but we are led to believe that he is over-the-top
in his cruelty. Holm does sport a menacing mustache and he has harsh words for
the recruits, but its typical stuff and the scenes are too brief to get a sense
that anything cruel is occurring apart from what we learn from the characters.
movie moves along at a predictable pace and finally settles into the meat of
the story when Paul and his friends arrive at the front and meet up with their
mentor, Stanislaus Katczinsky, played by Ernest Borgnine. He’s the old soldier who
advises the inexperienced recruits and tells them to forget everything they
learned in basic training because he’s going to tell them the correct way of
doing things in order to survive.
and his friends become seasoned soldiers after months of fighting in the
trenches. Friends are killed and wounded and Paul ends up in the hospital after
he is wounded where we see soldiers suffering from shell shock, commonly known
today as PostTtraumatic Stress Disorder. After his recovery, Paul is allowed a brief
visit home where he visits with his mother and Kantorek. Himmelstoss ends up
being transferred to the front with the boys, but he disappears from the story
without explanation shortly after his arrival. It was good to see Holm,
Pleasence and Neal once more, but they have too little screen time.
does a good job as Paul, but it felt like something was missing. I never got
the sense Paul was truly transformed in the end of that any of them were
experiencing the horrors of war. Thomas and the actors playing his friends are credible,
but are not quite up to the screen presence of the more seasoned actors in this
movie. Borgnine carries much of the water in the film and he is a welcome part
of the production in every scene he appears, but the movie is not about him.
production is very good television and it is an impressive version of a classic
tale that benefits from the cast of great actors and by the on-location filming
in Yugoslavia. Perhaps I’m simply jaded after the superior production values in
similarly themed television projects like “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific”
which depicted warfare in graphic detail as well as combat related post
traumatic stress. This production touches on it in a way that was acceptable on
1979 television, but which appears dated today.
movie was directed by Delbert Mann who moved very successfully from Emmy
winning TV director to Oscar winning movie director in the 1950s and returned
to TV in the early 1970s after directing a string of dramas and light comedies
during the 50s and 60s including the Oscar winning best picture “Marty,” his
motion picture debut, which also starred Ernest Borgnine. Pleasence, Neal and
Holm’s scenes are welcome, but all too brief and little more than cameo roles.
Borgnine is wonderful in every scene and works well with Thomas.
movie is presented in widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio, although I doubt it was
originally broadcast in that format in 1979. Its possible the movie was filmed
in widescreen with the safety area left open when broadcast on television and on
early home video releases. The run time is also longer here on the Blu-ray than
in the original CBS broadcast of 131 minutes clocking in at 156 minutes on this
Shout! Factory release. The Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific and includes the
trailer and a photo gallery as extras. The movie is an entertaining and welcome
During my formative years – as I sat before a steady
procession of unforgettable movies, my passion for cinema intensifying with the
discovery of the diverse emotions that films proved capable of stirring within
me – there were several behind-the-camera names that would show up on opening
titles sequences which I started to recognise, people whose involvement in any
given picture became synonymous with a fine evening’s entertainment. One of
those names was Elliott Kastner. The producer behind dozens of films, from
big guns such as the fabulous wartime actioner Where Eagles Dare and Charles Bronson western whodunnit Breakheart Pass, to less remembered gems
the like of beautifully melancholic heartbreaker Jeremy and psychological thriller Death Valley, if Elliott Kastner's name was attached to it then,
for me, that was a cast-iron guarantee that I wasn't going to come away
Which brings us to director Anthony Page's 1978 clerical
mystery Absolution starring Richard
Burton, which Kastner co-produced (alongside four-times collaborator Danny
O'Donovan) and which somehow bypassed me for years until I finally caught up
with it recently courtesy of Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray disc.
Benjie Stanfield (Dominic Guard) is the most promising
pupil at a Catholic public school. Feeling the pressure of permanently having
to act the model student he starts to develop a rebellious streak. Much to the
dismay of his austere housemaster, Father Goddard (Richard Burton), Stanfield
begins associating with ne’er-do-well traveller Blakey (Billy Connolly) who's
set up camp in the woodland adjacent to the school and whose bohemian lifestyle
strikes the young lad as idyllic. Furthermore Stanfield starts to spin
outrageous fictions to Goddard which, bound by the seal of the confessional,
the incensed priest is powerless to punish him for. Then, following an argument
with Blakey, the distraught Stanfield confesses to Goddard that he lost his
temper and killed the man. Is he telling the truth, or is it just more
mischief? And when he confides that he'd like to do away with irritating fellow
pupil Arthur Dyson (David Bradley), can the poor, beleaguered Father Goddard manage
to stop him?
For the most part tautly directed by Anthony Page, Absolution is a keen-edged mystery from
the pen of Anthony Shaffer (whose other notable works include The Wicker Man, Frenzy and ultimate twisty-turny thriller Sleuth). Yes, the first half is something of a leisurely affair,
taking perhaps a shade too much time to establish its protagonists. But hang on
in there, because at the midway point the screw begins to turn and continues to
tighten up the suspense to almost knuckle-whitening levels as the story reaches
its (semi-)predictable dénouement. And if it is predictable to any degree, that's only because, coming as it
does from the writer of the aforementioned Sleuth,
one spends the film’s runtime trying to second-guess its sting (one aspect of
which, expected or otherwise, still harbours a shockingly brutal punch).
I don't think I've ever seen a disappointing Richard Burton
performance – even in those occasionally questionable projects (which, with
hindsight, he himself might have conceded were poor judgment calls) he was
always the dominating presence – and with Absolution
arriving the same year as The Medusa
Touch and The Wild Geese we can certainly
be thankful to 1978 for its delicious crop of Burton victuals. His
exemplary performance here as Father Goddard, which came towards the end of a
career cut tragically short by his premature death in 1984, is spellbinding;
the character's burgeoning air of desperation and despair is relayed to
perfection. Just as he should be, Dominic Guard is irksomely smirky and
objectionably arrogant as Stanfield, the blue-eyed boy gone bad who's holding
the whip hand and seemingly relishing every moment of it. David Bradley
(probably best known for his starring role in Kes, credited here as Dai Bradley) garners audience
empathy as underdog Dyson, the gawky target of Stanfield's disdain. Billy Connolly
meanwhile is first-rate in his film debut, revealing a talent that stretched
far beyond the stand-up comedy for which, back in 1978, he was almost
exclusively renowned. The supporting cast includes a typically gruff Andrew Keir
as the school's headmaster, Brian Glover as a thuggish policeman and the always
engaging Hilary Mason, Oh, and unless I'm very much mistaken, Linda Robson puts
in a single shot cameo as a school dinner lady.
As tales of priests vexed by the sanctity of the
confessional go, Absolution would
make for a very fine double-feature companion to gripping Hitchcock drama I Confess. And where with films such as
this the words "don't watch the trailer before you've seen the film"
are a fairly mandatory warning, in Absolution's
case it's imperative one take heed. I mention this specifically because the
original trailer is included among the bonus features on Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release
and it recklessly throws away a key moment from the climax. If the disc’s menu
screen sets off alarm bells with its excessively grainy still image of Richard
Burton, it shouldn't be cause for concern; the 1.85:1 transfer of the feature
is almost impeccable, faltering only at the tail end of the closing credits
with evidence of some minor print damage. The aforementioned "avoid at all
costs" trailer aside, the disc’s all too sparse supplements comprise just
a pair of thematically-associated trailers (for Donald Sutherland vehicle The Rosary Murders, and True Confessions starring the two
Roberts, De Niro and Duvall).
In the early Fifties movie studios were worried because fewer
people were going to see movies in the theater. They’d rather stay home and
watch that new-fangled gadget—television. To lure audiences out of their homes
and away from their TV sets, Twentieth Century Fox’s Spyros P. Skouras
developed the anamorphic widescreen filming process known as Cinemascope. “The
Robe” (1953) was the first film shot in this format and was an instant hit. More
movies in widescreen with stereophonic sound soon flooded into neighborhood
To take advantage of the widescreen, Twentieth Century
Fox’s early Cinemascope movies were often filmed in beautiful, far off locations.
These films were part travelogue, part-adventure, and romance, with lush music
soundtracks. Jean Negulesco, the Romanian-born director who made dozens of
films in the 1940s including “Nobody Lives Forever” (1946), “Humoresque”
(1946), and “Johnny Belinda” (1948) became a specialist at making these kinds
of movies. His Cinemascope work includes “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954),
which he shot in Rome, “The Pleasure Seekers” (1964), filmed in Madrid, and
“Boy on a Dolphin” (1957), filmed in the Greek Islands.
“Boy on a Dolphin” (1957) starred Alan Ladd and is notable for
being the film that introduced Sophia Loren to American audiences. She plays
Phaedra, an earthy Greek sponge diver who finds a rare, and valuable, centuries-old
statue of a golden boy riding a dolphin down in the water off the coast of one
of the islands. Ladd plays Dr. James Calder an American archeologist whom
Phaedra first asks for help in recovering the statue so she can become rich.
Their relationship starts well but takes a bad turn when scoundrel Clifton Webb
shows up as the nefarious Victor Parmalee, an unscrupulous art collector who wants
the statue for himself. He convinces Phaedra to double cross Calder, who wants
to put the golden boy and his fish in a museum. Parmalee convinces her that
he’ll make her rich if she helps him get the statue.
There isn’t a whole lot of plot in this film, which was directed by Jean Negulesco. Mostly it’s
Phaedra leading Calder on and telling him to dive in all the wrong places so he
won’t find the statue, and helping Parmalee locate it and hide it. There’s a
ne’er-do-well boyfriend named Rhif (Jorge Mistral), who is jealous of Calder, double
crosses Phaedra, and makes his own deal with Parmalee.
The plot may be overly simplistic but it doesn’t matter
much. “Boy on a Dolphin” is one of those films that you don’t think about or
analyze. You just sit back and let all that scenery and soundtrack music wash
over you. Milton Krasner’s beautiful color photography of the Greek Isles fills
almost every frame with dazzling sunlight, azure seas and sky, and the
magnificent architectural scenery that took three thousand years to create.
It’s a treat for the eyes. Hugo Friedhofer’s score is beautifully lush and very
Debussey. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray presents the film in a magnificent 4k
restoration with gorgeous color and glorious stereophonic sound. I’ve always admired the sound of these
fifties Fox films. The sound recording is in some more impressive than what we
hear in today’s films. For this writer, these “golden oldies” often offer more
spatial dynamics between the actors’ voices that give it a more true-to-life
sound- and it isn’t so loud it blows your ear drums out. Modern sound engineers
should go back and study these films to learn how to record realistic
While “Boy on a Dolphin” was Loren’s big screen debut in
the US., sadly, it also marked the beginning of the decline of one of
Hollywood’s most charismatic stars. In a real-life “A Star is Born” kind of way,
the young Loren fills the screen with life and radiance and comes out of the
sea like Venus on the half-shell. Ladd, on the other hand, though he still had
that deeply resonant voice that carried so well, seemed tired, disinterested,
and diminished. There was no chemistry at all between him and Loren in the
stiffly acted love scenes. It was only four years after the magnificent “Shane”
(1953), but somehow the ruins of ancient Greece seemed a cruel reflection of
the star himself, whose days of glory were already beginning to fade. He died only
seven years later, going on to make ten more films of varying quality, finally
rallying with his last great performance in “The Carpetbaggers” (1964).
Kino Lorber has done a terrific job presenting this film under
its KL Studio Classics banner in a brand new 4k 1080p Restoration. Picture and
sound are excellent. The extras include trailers for other Loren films,
including “Marriage Italian Style” and “Sunflower”. Recommended.
Director Joe Dante's 1993 comic-drama Matinee is a loving ode to the monster movies that enthralled him during
his youth. Equally it's a Valentine to film producer William Castle, without
whose uniquely innovative approach to film exhibition a generation of
moviegoers would have been denied such wonders as ‘Emergo’ (for The House on Haunted Hill), ‘Percepto’
(for The Tingler) and ‘Illusion-O’
(for Thirteen Ghosts).
During the fraught two- week period of the Cuban
Missile Crisis in October 1962, brothers Gene (Simon Fenton) and Dennis (Jesse
Lee) are thrilled to learn that not only is new horror picture Mant! getting a sneak preview at their
local movie emporium the Key West Strand, but that the screening is going to be
attended by showman extraordinaire Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman), who's
planning to test run his newest attraction, ‘Atomo Vision’. Woolsey is a
second-rate producer of third-rate pictures who peddles his wares on the back
of gimmickry, and he rigs out the Strand with all manner of electronic wizardry
to optimise the viewing experience, much to the chagrin of its unimpressed
manager (Robert Picardo). But as the evening of the big show approaches so the
threat of nuclear annihilation heats up...
Set against the backdrop of the infamous and alarming political
confrontation between America and the Soviet Union, we get glimpses throughout Matinee of the understandable mania that
gripped a terrified public – the stripping of shelves in grocery stores in
order to stock up for post-strike survival, the mind-boggling naiveté of the futile
drills instructing schoolchildren on how to live through such an attack – but
as with several other Dante films including Small
Soldiers, Explorers and The Hole, the nucleus of the narrative concerns
a bunch of kids and a childhood adventure. The four youngsters who assume the
key roles here – Simon Fenton, Omri Katz, Lisa Jakub and Kellie
Martin – are all very likeable and bring a nice measure of charm to the party.
And, unsurprisingly, John Goodman has a fine old time chewing up the scenery as
the larger-than-life showmaster with a pretty girl on his arm (Cathy Moriarty),
a big fat cigar in one hand and a litany of wild ideas in the other.
For those who enjoy such things – and I certainly do – the
setting of Matinee in a cinema makes for
an unparalleled nostalgia trip, Gene and Dennis’s wide-eyed enthusiasm for movies
provoking heady memories of the sheer excitement of those childhood trips to
the pictures, brimming with barely restrained anticipation for what might emerge
from the shaft of light beaming out over my head. Certainly anyone with a
fondness for old sci-fi and horror titles, particularly the vast catalogue that
emerged during the 1950s, should get a thrill out of the ambience that Dante conjures
up; just look at the gorgeous period decor of The Strand, its walls a haven of
gorgeous movie art, its facade bedecked with splashy posters and stills...not
to mention the two enormous rubber ant
legs extending out over the marquee. A snapshot of a joyous era of
showmanship sadly long since dispensed with.
And then, of course, there's Mant! itself, a fun homage to the very best (and worst) of those sci-fi/horror
clunkers and a recognisable hybrid of Them!
and The Fly. Dante, a dyed in the
wool monster movie buff himself, treats us to several extended scenes of this
film-within-a-film, which concerns Bill, a man who has an unfortunate reaction
to a dental x-ray and thereafter metamorphoses into a giant ant. The dialogue,
delivered with deliciously straight-faced sincerity, is very funny indeed, for
example this line from Kevin McCarthy as a military General loud-hailing the mammoth
insect scaling a tower block: "Bill…come down off that building – we've
got sugar for you!" Supported by a typically euphonious and playful score
from the always reliable Jerry Goldsmith, Matinee
may not be Dante at his best – for that I would point to Gremlins or Innerspace,
or more recently Burying the Ex – but
it's certainly Dante given reign to express his passion for a cinematic genre so
dear to his heart.
Arrow has issued Matinee
on a dual format Blu-ray/DVD release in the UK. The 1.85:1 ratio image is very
nice with only a couple of scenes bearing particularly noticeable grain.
Supplements are bountiful, the highlight for this writer being the
feature-length version of Mant!
itself, seen teasingly in interrupted chunks during Matinee; okay, so it runs for just 16-minutes, but it's
easily as much fun as the old films to which it pays tribute and there's even a
mock, distinctly Castle-esque trailer for it dropped in for good measure.
Additionally we get interviews with Joe Dante, cinematographer John Hora and
editor Marshall Harvey, a piece concerning some of the director’s stock players
(Robert Picardo, Archie Hahn, Belinda Balaski, John Sayles and, of course,
Dick Miller – hey, what would such a featurette be without input from him?), deleted and extended sequences,
some behind-the-scenes footage, a vintage electronic press kit (how antiquated
those once revolutionary, pre-Internet promotional packages look 20+ years
on!), and a theatrical trailer. The disc comes housed in a reversible sleeve,
offering fans a choice of original or newly commissioned art, and it’s also
accompanied by a collectible booklet.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
BURBANK, Calif., November 3, 2016 – To mark the 75thanniversary of
Orson Welles’ cinematic masterpiece“Citizen
Kane,”Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
(WBHE) will release a new Blu-ray™ and DVD on November 15, and the American
Film Institute (AFI) will mount a special screening of the restored master at
AFI FEST presented by Audi, the Institute'sannual film festival in Hollywood,
on November 13.The
screening will take place at the Egyptian Theatre at 1:30 p.m., followed by an
AFI Master Class, featuring close personal Welles friend Peter Bogdanovich and
a celebrity and academic panel to be announced.
The film’s central character is powerful
publisher Charles Foster Kane, who aspires to be president of the United
States. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst
thinly veiled and slanderous account of his own life and sought to use his
formidable muscle to halt the film’s production and distribution and ultimately
to destroy Welles himself.
the early 1960s
“Citizen Kane”had been out of
circulation for many years when a panel of top industry tastemakers, selected
by the AFI,voted it as the Greatest Film of All Time. Since then,“Citizen
Kane”has remained # 1 or # 2 on countless critics’ lists and
other surveys including those from Roger Ebert, The BBC,Rolling Stone
Magazine, Pauline Kael, among many others.
One-time dean of American movie reviewers,
Pauline Kael, noted, “Citizen Kane
is perhaps the one
American talking picture that seems as fresh now as the day it opened. It may
seem even fresher.” Ebert echoed, “This towering achievement is as fresh, as
provoking, as entertaining, as sad, as brilliant as it ever was. Many agree it
is the greatest film of all time.”
According to Martin Scorsese, Welles and the
film are “responsible for inspiring more people to be film directors than
anyone else in the history of cinema.” Woody Allen:
“Welles takes a
quantum leap above every American director with that intangible thing called
genius. Just an exhilarating movie.” Mel Brooks: “Maybe the best American
picture ever. A masterpiece with artistic genius on a ‘Beethoven’ level.”
Richard Dreyfuss: “I usually avoid questions about my favorite movie but then
people keep pressing me. ‘OK, ‘Citizen Kane’ is my favorite movie. It’s the
greatest movie ever made, OK?’ Without a doubt the only film you can watch 138
times, and each time you’ll still see something new.” And finally, Steven
Spielberg: “Just one of the great movies ever made. A great American experience
also heads a long list of film dramas about the media
including such classics as “All The President’s Men,” “Sweet Smell of Success,”
“The Killing Fields,” “Absence of Malice,” “The Paper,” and lastyear’s Academy
Award®-winning Best Picture, “Spotlight.”
Not only did he star in the film, but the
then only 25-year-old Orson Welles also produced, directed and co-wrote the
film which won the Academy Award® for Best Writing, Original Screenplay (Welles
and Herman J. Mankiewicz) and captured nine nominations, including Best
Picture, Best Actor and Best Director (Welles). Joseph Cotten made an
impressive screen debut as Jedidiah Leland, newspaper reporter and Kane’s
longtime friend, from whom he had become estranged over the issue of
journalistic integrity. Other actors included Everett Sloane, Agnes Moorehead,
Ruth Warrick, Paul Stewart and William Alland as the investigative reporter who
delves into Kane’s life and his mysterious “
Alan Ladd and Arthur O’Connell appear uncredited as reporters. Gregg Toland was
the film’s cinematographer and Robert Wise, later a two-time Academy
Award-winning director, edited the picture.
Remastered and restored from original nitrate
elements in 4K resolution, the film (certified 100% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes)
will be available on DVD ($14.97) and Blu-ray ($19.98). A wide variety of DVD
and Blu-ray extras will be included in all editions.
of Sophia Loren will be ecstatic to learn new independent label CultFilms is in
the process of releasing a collection of her award-winning movies. Launching
this fine set is the wonderful Two Women
aka La Ciociara (previously reviewed
in Issue #34 of Cinema Retro),
followed by A Special Day aka Una Giornata Particolare (which is
reviewed here). Yesterday, Today and
Tomorrow, Marriage Italian Style
and Boccaccio 70’ are to follow. This
collection showcases Loren at the top of her acting game and will be warmly
welcomed by her fans and fans of Italian cinema generally.
housewife and mother of six Antoinetta (Sophia Loren) is busy trying to ready
her family so they can attend a parade to celebrate Hitler’s state visit with
Mussolini. Rushed off her feet, it becomes apparent she won’t be able to attend
the momentous occasion as she has too much housework to deal with and is
getting no help from her husband. Deflated that her family has left her with
this mountain of work, she resigns herself to another mundane day and sets
about her daily chores. To make things worse, their pet bird escapes and lands
on the ledge of a neighbouring apartment. This seemingly innocuous event leads
to a chance encounter with neighbour Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni) which
changes the course of her day. Instead of endless chores with no appreciation
from those around her, she converses, dances and even begins to fall for this
charming stranger who, like her, cannot attend the parade. The pair discuss
life, love and politics and, in a short space of time, seem to enjoy each
other’s company. But does Gabriele harbour a dark secret which has kept him
away from the parade? Will Antoinetta be as loyal to the ideology of the
fascist state after her educational encounter with Gabriele? Will things ever
be the same for either of them after this day?
people think of Loren as a glamorous leading lady, able to make men drool at
her phenomenal beauty while women can do nothing but begrudgingly acknowledge
what a stunning woman adorns the screen before them. A Special Day deliberately goes against this perceived image,
making Loren look far from glamorous as a character who is haggard and severely
run down due to the strains of motherhood. She plays a woman expected to wait
on her family slavishly: a dutiful wife trapped by the Mussolini-era philosophy
that women should be viewed simply wives and mothers, nothing more, mere
baby-making machines and domestic workers. In real-life, Mussolini introduced
incentives to men whose wives bore them lots of children: it was the fascist
dictator’s way of increasing the Italian population. In the film Antoinetta and
Emanuele are shown to have six children, and it becomes apparent he wants her
to have another as soon as possible as a seventh child will make him exempt
from paying taxes. So many children will obviously take a toll on the mother,
but none of that comes into anyone’s considerations. Instead of the usual
glamorous make-up and elegant clothing, we see Loren wearing dull, oversized
and scruffy garments which merely serve a practical purpose. It’s clear from
her demeanour that she has given up on life. In one scene Emanuele needs to dry
his hands and, unable find anything close at hand, he simply uses the skirt of
his wife’s outfit. From very early on viewers are prompted to be angered and
outraged at Antoinetta’s treatment at the hands of her ungrateful family.
Loren, Mastroianni puts in a remarkable performance as a radio journalist who
has been fired from his job due to his sexual orientation. Right from his
opening scene, Mastroianni shows great passion, fighting his demons while
contemplating suicide. At this point we don’t realise what issues are weighing
so heavily on his mind, making him consider ending his life. The
characterisation could have fallen flat in another actor’s hands, but he
performs it superbly and generates audience sympathy right from the start. He
keeps us engrossed with his poignant performance throughout.
and Mastroianni worked together on a number of films, including Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963), Marriage Italian Style (1964), The Priest’s Wife (1970), Sunflower (1970) and Sex Pot (1975), among many others. They
were an acting duo to rival Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Here, they
manage to convey an important message to their audience: even when it feels
like all is lost, you may yet find comfort and support in the strangest of
the duration of the day, it becomes increasingly apparent that Antoinetta is
becoming attracted to Gabriele and believes he reciprocates her feelings. This
leads to an altercation between the two, forcing him to share his sexual secret
with her. Regardless of this, Antoinetta’s overwhelming need for human contact
- for someone to view her as a human being, an equal - overpowers everything
else and causes her to be drawn to him once more. Eventually they make love,
though Gabriele seems very dazed and confused throughout the event. This scene
has caused considerable debate, with some audiences questioning whether
Antoinette takes advantage of Gabriele, forcing herself on him. Anyone who
watches carefully, though, will note how he tenderly grabs her breast while she
is kissing him. It can be interpreted that both give the other something they
need in order to survive. Gabriele is about to be sent to exile and lacks
companionship. His sexual orientation means he is classed as a degenerate who
people want little to nothing to do with and Antoinetta needs to feel like a
beautiful woman, to be appreciated and not treated like a baby-making-machine
or slave. Gabriele knows he can give her the contact she craves even though we
see the pain and conflict on his face as he allows events to unfold. These two
people show each other that there is more to life if you are prepared to take a
chance. They know that once the day is over, things probably won’t really
change; everything will go back to how it was but, for the moment at least,
they can feel a sense of hope and take solace from the knowledge they don’t
always have to be so neglected and isolated.
of silver-age horror and sci-fi are likely rejoicing that 1958’s The Monster of Piedras Blancas has, at
long last, crossed over to the digital realm. The film’s first and only previous commercial issue was a much
sought-after out-of-print 1990 VHS release on Republic Pictures Home
Video. This new Blu-Ray version from the
folks at Olive Films has made this film, long desired by collectors, available once
again – this time in a stunningly beautiful and virtually flawless monochrome
dismissed as a second rate low-budget reimagining of Universal’s Studio’s Creature from the Black Lagoon – this Vanwick
Productions film, reportedly made at a cost of a mere $30,000 – is an
unassuming little gem. There’s plenty to
enjoy here if you’re a buff of 1950s science-fiction, with its cheesecake damsels-in-distress
and loathsome rubber-suited monsters. Directed by Irvin Berwick, a freshman helmsman with no résumé in this
capacity, The Monster of Piedras Blancas
is an unpretentious good old-fashioned creature feature ripe for rediscovery.
black and white film is set in the sleepy seaside village of Piedras Blancas,
where the bodies of two headless, blood-drained fishermen are found on
shore. (For you sticklers, while there
is an actual Piedras Blancas on the Golden State coast, the film was primarily
photographed at a lighthouse near Point Conception and around the town of
Cayucus, both in northern California). With
no town morgue to speak of, the town constable George (Forrest Lewis) and Dr.
Samuel Jorgensen (Les Tremayne) arrange to have the bodies stored – against both
the health code and good sense, I would think - in the ice room of Kochek’s
Meat and Groceries market. This was
probably a poor decision as the storekeeper, the doom-saying villager Mr.
Kochek (Frank Arvidson), has already mocked the police department’s contention that
the fishermen were killed when their boat went into the rocks during a wild
squall. The wary storekeeper doesn’t buy
this official ruling for a moment and – much to the anger of town officials – continues
to scare his already frightened customers when he mysteriously advises they
need only “look up the history of this village” to discern what the real cause of the recent trouble is.
is at particular loggerheads with the wiry Mr. Sturges (John Harmon), the
curmudgeonly keeper of the village lighthouse. Sturges is an isolated-by-choice, painfully secretive loner who only
visits town to collect groceries and, more oddly, gather meat scraps for an
undisclosed purpose. This week the meat
scraps Kochek usually saves for him were given to another customer to feed
their dogs. This revelation causes the prickly
relationship between the two already grumpy old men to completely sour. Though Kochek possesses few admirable
qualities, the self-contained Sturges might exhibit even fewer. In the presence of Lucy (Jeanne Carmen), Sturges’
comely daughter, even the town sheriff sighs that the grim and combative lighthouse
keeper is “the most unfriendly man I ever knew.”
also the most mysterious. Following the unexplained
death of his wife ten years earlier, we learn Sturges sent young Lucy away to
boarding school, fearful of her traipsing along the sand and rocky beachside
cliffs of Piedras Blancas. Now back in
town while on summer break from college, the girl has taken a counter-person
position at a local luncheonette. She’s
relatively happy now as she’s managed to attract a handsome beau Fred (Don
Sullivan), who is visiting Piedras Blancas on an oceanographic research mission.
Though the two would share a passionate From
Here to Eternity clinch in the rough surf early in the movie, I would
imagine it was to Fred’s disappointment that he was not present when the
shapely Lucy chose to shed all of her clothes for a solo skinny dip near dusk. While enjoying her nude swim an articulated reptilian
arm steals an article of her clothing from the rocks. Her father is – as is his custom – not
particularly pleased to learn of his daughter’s unsanctioned paddle near the restricted
cliffs. He had earlier cautioned that the
eerie acreage surrounding the lighthouse is “a lonely place to get to after
dark.” Upon hearing his daughter express
concern that she sensed someone – or something – had been watching her during
her naked frolic in the cove, the father would scold – as any reasonable Dad would,
I guess – “I don’t know what they teach you in college these days, but it’s not
course Lucy’s free-spirited ways are a less pressing problem to villagers than
the fact that the tally of headless and bloodless bodies has been spiraling
upward in recent days. Something
resembling a fish gill is found on one corpse, causing Fred and Dr. Jorgensen
to suspect that if a sea-monster is terrifying the village, it’s likely an
evolutionary aberration; perhaps a diplo-vertebrate,
a presumed “mutation of the reptilian family.” (As an aside, I Googled the term
“diplo-vertebrate” thinking it was a simply a pseudo-science invention of Piedras Blancas screenwriter C. Haile
Chace. Surprisingly, there was a single
reference to this term found in an 1891 geological treatise, “structures… not made clear as yet their
precise relation to modern Amphibia and Reptilia.”).
any event, science eventually intersects with superstition and suddenly the
villager’s long whispered “Legend of the White Rocks” monster seems plausible
to all involved. Apparently, beachside corpses
sprinkled about aren’t anything new in Piedras Blancas: this has been going on
for years and years, and this grim tide has helped foster the belief that a
sea-monster exists within the cave fissures dotting the coastline. What follows is what you might expect: a climactic battle between man and beast atop
the tower of the imposing lighthouse. The
always most obvious suspect in the film finally admits collusion with the
creature, even reasonably offering it was probably “stupid” of him to
unintentionally wean The Monster of
Piedras Blancas from an all-seafood to an all-meat diet. Well, you can’t argue with that.
is a Saturday night popcorn movie, presented here in a 1:78:1 aspect ratio and
mono sound. The movie sports a pretty
good cast, good production values (for its low-budget) and competent direction
by a first-timer. The film’s screenplay,
while formulaic and unsurprising, is neither terrible nor groan- inducing. The monster’s scaly rubber suit – the design
usually credited to Piedras Blancas
producer Jack Kevan, who had earlier helped construct the iconic Black Lagoon
creature for Universal – is pretty impressive, with actor Sullivan later recalling
it being scarier in person than seen on film.
Films should be commended for rescuing this and other such dimly-recalled 1950s
sci-fi rarities. In recent years the
label has given respectful white-glove treatments to such desirable titles as Fire Maidens of Outer Space (1956), The Colossus of New York (1958), The Invisible Monster (1950), Flying Disc Man from Mars (1950), and She Devil (1957). Could we have soldiered on with our lives
without these mostly forgotten titles not having appeared on home video in HD and
on Blu-Ray? Of course we could have…
though our lives would surely be far emptier without them.
Released in 1966, producer Ivan Tors' Around the World Under the Sea seemed at first blush like an exercise in stunt casting: cobble together some contemporary TV favorites into a feature film and have MGM and Tors divy up the profits. However, that perception would be entirely wrong. While the film did boast some popular TV stars in leading roles, the film itself is an intelligent adventure flick, well-acted and very competently directed by old hand Andrew Marton. The film stars Lloyd Bridges (only a few years out of Sea Hunt), Brian Kelly (star of Flipper), Daktari lead Marshall Thompson and Man From U.N.C.L.E. David McCallum. Veteran supporting actors Keenan Wynn and Gary Merrill are also prominently featured and Shirley Eaton, riding her fame from Goldfinger, has the only female role in this macho male story line.
The plot finds a team of leading scientists who come together to install earthquake warning sensors on seabeds around the world. The risky mission is undertaken in the Hydronaught, a nuclear-powered state of the art submarine/science lab capable of operating at the ocean's greatest depths. The physical dangers are only part of the frustrations the team has to cope with. The presence of Eaton, as a drop-dead gorgeous scientist on board the confined all-male environment leads to inevitable jealousies and sexual tensions. (Although Tors specialized in family entertainment, even he couldn't resist a most welcome, completely gratuitous sequence in which Eaton swims around underwater in a bikini.) Unlike many films aimed at kids, Around the World Under the Sea boasts a highly intelligent screenplay that has much appeal to older audiences. The heroes are refreshingly human: they bicker, they panic and they make costly mistakes in judgment. Bridges is the stalwart, no-nonsense leader of the group, Kelly is his ill-tempered second-in-command who tries unsuccessfully to resist Eaton's charms, Wynn is his trademark crusty-but-lovable eccentric character. McCallum's Phil Volker is the most nuanced of the characters. A brilliant scientist, he can only be persuaded to join the life-saving mission by making demands based on his own personal profit. He also allows a brief flirtation with Eaton to preoccupy him to the point of making an error that could have fatal consequences for all aboard. Each of the actors gets a chance to shine with the exception of Thompson, whose role is underwritten. The scene-stealers are McCallum and Wynn, who engage in some amusing one-upmanship in the course of playing a protracted chess game. However, one is also impressed by Kelly's screen presence. He could have had a successful career as a leading man were it not for injuries he sustained in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. (Partially paralyzed, Kelly went on to serve as producer on a number of successful film including Blade Runner.)
The film benefits from some wonderful underwater photography shot in the Bahamas, Florida and the Great Barrier Reef - all the result of a collaborative effort between the three top underwater filmmakers of the period: Jordan Klein, Ricou Browning and Lamar Boren. Although the special effects were modestly achieved, they hold up quite well today. Marton wrings some legitimate suspense out of several crisis situations including an encounter with a giant eel and a Krakatoa-like earthquake that almost spells doom for our heroes. How they escape is cleverly and convincingly played out. The movie also has a lush score by Harry Sukman (we'll leave it to you to pronounce his last name.)
Warner Archive's widescreen, region-free DVD looks very good indeed and boasts a couple of nice extras: an original production featurette and an original trailer (with Spanish sub-titles!). The company has wisely retained the magnificent poster art for the DVD sleeve.
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The word "restrained" doesn't often fit into analysis of Jerry Lewis' film career, but in Hook, Line and Sinker, a 1969 black comedy, the legendary funnyman is indeed restrained, as least in comparison to most of the characters he played. The film is an unusual entry from this period of Lewis' film work in that he did not direct the movie. Instead, George Marshall, an old hand at helming diverse films, took on that responsibility. There isn't much discernible difference in the end result and one could easily be forgiven if they were to assume that Lewis directed. He plays Peter Ingersoll, a typical middle class suburbanite who is living the American dream. He has a boring but steady 9 to 5 job as an insurance salesman, a pretty wife (Anne Francis), two polite children, a comfortable home and a devoted best friend, Scott Carter (Peter Lawford), who also happens to be his personal physician. The only consternation in the household is wife Nancy's concern about Peter's costly and self-indulgent hobby of deep sea fishing. Peter's mundane but comfortable existence comes to an abrupt end when Dr. Carter gives him the stunning news that a recent medical check-up has confirmed that he is terminally ill. Distraught and and depressed, Peter is stunned when Nancy suggests that he forsake his responsibilities as husband and father and enact an audacious plan whereby he will spend his last few months on a solo journey to exotic locations where he can spend his final days fishing. Nancy concocts a plot whereby the entire venture can be financed on credit cards that will never have to be paid. Additionally, his life insurance policy of $150,000 will ensure that his family can live in comfort (this was back in 1969, don't forget.) Peter is initially reluctant to engage in the scheme but he ultimately concedes. He ends up traveling to exotic locations as he wracks up enormous bills with carefree abandon. In Lisbon, he is shocked when Scott Carter appears unexpectedly with the news that an equipment malfunction on a medical device resulted in the wrong diagnosis. Peter isn't going to die, but has to pretend he has in order to escape prosecution for the monies owed to the credit card companies. Scott assures him that the statute of limitations last only seven years, after which he can reappear and resume his family life. By this point, the audience has long since figured out what Peter has to learn belatedly: that the entire plan has been an exercise in deceit on the part of Nancy and Scott. He discovers that the two are having an affair and that Nancy and his kids are in Lisbon, too, where they refer to his best friend as "Daddy Scott" even as their mother shares his bed. Emotionally devastated, Peter concocts a complex scheme of his own to exact revenge on his wife and friend.
Hook, Line and Sinker fares better than many of Lewis' late career big screen ventures in that the humor, characters and situations are more realistic and believable than those found in most Lewis films. The character of Peter is somewhat of a nerd and klutz but is far cry from the typical imbecile he usually portrays. Consequently, although he is dressed in a silly disguise when he discovers the deceit played upon him by those he trusts most, there is a certain genuine sadness that permeates the scene. The humor is also a bit more daring than usual, with the habitual abuse of corpses playing a central role in the plot. There are some over the top elements of the film, but for the most part it's a highly enjoyable, consistently amusing scenario well-played by an energized Lewis, who has a perfect foil in Lawford. It's really Lewis' show, however, with few memorable moments for supporting players other than Lewis perennial Kathleen Freeman, who makes a welcome appearance early in the film as the world's worst baby sitter. The actual on-location filming in Lisbon helps elevate the production values, even if the majority of the movie has clearly been shot in the studio. I'm a sucker for Jerry Lewis films, including this one, which remains one of his more successful efforts of the 1960s.
The Sony DVD is from the burn-to-order program and is region free. The transfer is top-notch but there are no extras. Sony should be a bit more generous in this area and provide at least a trailer, which we present for you here.
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By 1969, Raquel Welch was at the peak of her cinematic career. Still a bit rough-around-the-edges as an actress, she nevertheless possessed a charming on-screen personality. Not surprisingly, that wasn't the aspect that movie studios chose to showcase when marketing her films. A prime example is Flareup, a 1969 thriller that heavily stressed images and clips of Welch gyrating in a sexy outfit as a go-go dancer. The fact that she is dressed in depressingly demure outfits except for this brief sequence represents something less than truth-in-advertising. Welch is Michele, a vivacious, independent minded Las Vegas strip club dancer whose best friend is murdered by her psychotic ex-husband Alan (Luke Askew). He gets away with the murder and kills another of his wife's friends, who he believes conspired to cause convince his ex to divorce him. Last on the list is Michele, who he relentless hunts. Although charismatic, Michele shows a distinct lack of common sense when it comes to self-protection. For reasons never explained, she turns down police protection and is immediately stalked by Alan. He trails her to Los Angeles, where her poor judgment flares up again (pardon the pun) when he pursues her in a high speed car chase. In the kind of logic made for "women-in-jeopardy" movies, Michele sails through the crowded streets of L.A. where she could seek help from hundreds of passersby, only to wind up in a remote and deserted section of Griffith Park where her would-be killer pursues her through a zoo. She later continues to show similar good sense by escaping from a guarded hospital room only to walk straight into the killer's next trap.
Flareup epitomizes the guilty pleasure movie, from the faux Bond-like opening credits to some laughably bad acting. The film is directed in a clunky, erratic style by James Neilson, who doesn't miss an opportunity to use a zoom lens or a cliched situation. He does succeed, however, in making the most of impressive on-location shooting in both Vegas and L.A, which at least gives the movie a feeling of authenticity. Neilson also shoots topless go go girls at L.A's famed Losers Lounge,where "King Leer" himself, Russ Meyer, is said to have scouted for well-endowed "talent" for his own movies. James Stacy is the parking lot attendant who starts a love affair with Michele and, refreshingly, this is one movie that doesn't have the male play hero to rescue his girlfriend. Michele maybe lacking in good judgment but is brave and resourceful enough to take on the killer herself. The movie does have some genuine suspense and one particularly chilling sequence in which an elderly motorist realizes that the hitchhiker he has picked up is actually a cold blooded murderer. Here, director Neilson finally distinguishes himself in an extensive sequence that is quite haunting.
The movie is good, passable fun and brings back some fond memories of the swinging Sixties. The region-free DVD from the Warner Archive contains an original trailer that emphasizes that Welch is now playing "herself", not a Mexican bandito or a cavegirl, a sly knock on her earlier films. The trailer, which is sexist enough to cause Gloria Steinem heart palpitations also presents Stacy with prominent billing- and spells his name wrong!
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This film comes across as something of a
vanity project for Pacino, part documentary, part dramatisation of Shakespeare's Richard III, in an attempt to explore, understand and
represent the play to the common man. The film and its aims are ambitious perhaps and in great danger of hilarious
and actorly self parody in places ("It has always been a dream of mine to
communicate how I feel about Shakespeare to other people") . Although overall Pacino's film is a little confused
about what it's exact aims are, it does capture some entertaining aspects of
the creative acting and directing process.
Pacino's sincere passion for Richard III, his
earnest attempts to analyse it and make it relevant are admirable; the play is
complex and interwoven, full of scheming politics, intrigue and backstabbing. He tackles head on a number of issues
including the difficulties American actors and audiences face with the language
of Shakespeare, their overly reverential attitude toward the text (which Derek
Jacobi points out is the main stumbling block for American actors) and the fact
that the average man-on-the-street honestly just finds Shakespeare a bit
boring, amusingly illustrated in a number of vox-pops from the streets of New
The film features an impressive cast,
including performances from and interviews with Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin,
John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl
Jones, Winona Ryder, Kevin Kline, and a host of other recognisable faces; therefore,
the fly-on-the-wall documentary aspects are often the most gripping. There are some genuinely heated moments of
round-table rehearsals, revealing in terms of talent, dedication and
understanding of actors of their own art. Notable, amongst others, are Penelope Allen (Herself / Queen Elizabeth),
expressing sheer passionate outrage in a clear understanding of her character's
complexities and Alec Baldwin (Himself / Duke of Clarence) who seems drop
effortlessly and convincingly into inhabiting his character in a most understated
manner one moment, and the next making jokes between takes about being paid in
donuts. Pacino has clearly made a
directorial decision to rely on close-ups and screen actors in efforts to avoid
stagey British theatrical traditions, allowing actors to quietly and intimately
inhabit their characters, creating a more uniquely American approach to
Nonetheless, Pacino's sheer intensity and
commitment to the process of this do lead to some truly ridiculous actorly
moments here, worthy of a Christopher Guest-style parody. For example, Pacino's plan for casting is simply
to get a bunch of (famous) actors in a room with copies of the play, let people
randomly start reading out whatever parts they feel drawn to, with his intent
that "the role and the actor will merge... and hopefully the casting will
get done by itself, one way or another. Cut immediately to: room full of extremely confused actors arguing about
who's reading what part. In another
behind-the-scenes moment, Pacino's co-director attempts to explain iambic
pentameter to him; pontificating that it is "like an anteater, very high
in the back and short front legs...", leaving a bewildered Pacino
shrugging to camera. In fact, Pacino
seems unafraid to portray himself as perhaps not the most astute or perceptive
amongst his peers, admittedly finding the play "very confusing" and
full of "fancy words", expressing wide-eyed awe at Kevin Spacey's
clear understanding of the play: "You're a pretty smart guy".
The constant cutting of the film between
behind the scenes rehearsal and documentary exposition with more filmic dramatised
scenes of the play does not help with clarity for the viewer, however. The
point isn't always clear, and some of Shakespeare's text, in scenes taken out
of context at least, is not always easy to follow, plus it becomes increasingly
unclear what type of film Pacino is trying to make here. At times, it seems a lighthearted parody film
about attitudes toward Shakespeare; Kevin Kline tells a story of his earliest
memories of Richard III, having attended the play with his girlfriend: "we
made out in the back row and left in the intermission." At other times this is a documentary about American
actors struggling to understand Shakespearian motives; John Gielgud, upon being
asked why Americans find this difficult, replies, without irony: "Perhaps
they don't go to picture galleries and read books as much as we do." It becomes even less clear with what purpose
the film-within-the-film (of the cast in re-enacting Richard III in full period
costume and setting) is being made, particularly as it is filmed using the same
close-up documentary-style roving camerawork as for behind-the-scenes sections;
there is no clear visual distinction for the audience as to whether this is
rehearsal, play or final film.
With regards to the disc itself, the screener
DVD copy available at time of review had no menu screen, artwork or extras, so
it is difficult to comment on the finished article, although a recently added
commentary would be a fascinating and welcome addition. The transfer itself could have been better
also; the overall volume level seemed very quiet in comparison to most discs,
and the contrast in terms of both colour and shadows was a little washed out
This film is a bold attempt to grapple with a
number of issues, whilst trying to do justice to the play itself, perhaps
trying to do too many different things. It is a shame that the film increasingly focuses on dramatised film-within-a-film
scenes when it is the behind-the-scenes documentary struggle that really
provides the most fascinating aspects here. In fact, in true Shakespearian fashion, the wisest and most
heartbreaking words of the entire film come from the mouth of a homeless,
toothless, beggar interviewed ad-hoc in the streets of New York: "...if we
think words are things, and we have no feelings in our words...it doesn't mean
anything. But if we felt what we said,
we'd say less and mean more. [wanders
away from camera to a passerby] Spare some change?"
Fat City, released in 1972,
was something of a “rebound” film for beloved director John Huston, whose
previous two films had been flops. Based upon the 1969 novel by Leonard Gardner
(who also wrote the screenplay), Fat City
follows Stacy Keach as Billy Tully, a small time boxer who never made it big
who is living in squalor. When Billy makes a rare return visit to the gym, he
meets Ernie (Jeff Bridges, hot off of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Last Picture Show). Billy sees some
potential in the teenager’s boxing ability and suggests he go see his old
manager, Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto—the future “Coach” on Cheers). Ernie does as told, and soon finds himself under Ruben’s
optimistic wing, while Billy’s life further deteriorates when he begins an
affair with an alcoholic wreck named Oma (Susan Tyrell, who would herself
secure a Best Supporting Actress nomination for this film). At the same time
that Ernie begins his fighting career, he too runs into trouble when he
impregnates his virginal girlfriend and soon leaves the world of boxing behind.
When Ernie and Billy reunite on a work crew in the San Joaquin Valley, both
become inspired to get back into the ring and return to Ruben. However, for
those assuming Bridges and Keach inevitably come to blows in some sort of
bloody boxing ring climax, they don’t. This is because Fat City isn’t so much a “boxing movie” as it is a character
portrait of Kecah’s sad-sack loser who just can’t seem to help himself out of
the bottle and other bad choices. Things seem to be on the up for Billy in the
third act when he finally shakes off his alcoholic lover Oma and wins his
“comeback” fight. Billy self-destructs soon after though when he doesn’t get as
big of a cut from the fight as he hoped for from Rudy (who has already given
Billy plenty of money in advances). Billy soon goes running back to Oma, now
back with her husband, and after her he crawls right back into the bottle.
Billy ends the film just as he had begun it, and though we don’t know his
future, it looks to be subpar as he shares a cup of coffee with Ernie.
character pieces like this are fairly common today, back in 1972 Fat City was something of a trailblazer.
And though things end on an ambiguous if not totally sour note for the film’s
protagonist, for director John Huston Fat
City was indeed a successful comeback as it was both a critical darling and
a financial success. Once again the famous director was back in high demand. As
to those who no doubt puzzle over the film’s title, which is never spoken in
the film itself, author Leonard Gardner told Time in 1969, “Lots of people have asked me about the title of my
book. It's part of Negro slang. When you say you want to go to Fat City, it
means you want the good life. I got the idea for the title after seeing a
photograph of a tenement in an exhibit in San Francisco. 'Fat City' was
scrawled in chalk on a wall. The title is ironic: Fat City is a crazy goal no
one is ever going to reach.”
in summary, those hoping for an inspiring sports movie might be disappointed,
but for those that love downbeat realistic character studies, Fat City is a real winner. The Twilight
Time Blu-ray comes with the film’s theatrical trailer, an isolated score track,
an audio commentary with film historians Lou Dobbs and Nick Redman, and also
some wonderful liner notes written by Julie Kirgo. This is a limited edition of 3,000 units.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Time Life:
Bob Hope, the greatest entertainer of the 20th century, was
above all a patriotic American dedicated to our troops around the world. His
star-studded USO Christmas shows brought a taste of home to servicemen and
women scattered thousands of miles from their families. Bob rang in the
Christmas season with the biggest stars in Hollywood along with major figures
from the worlds of sports and music, and cracked jokes with his celebrity pals
and presidents alike. At home or abroad, his specials proved that laughter was
the best medicine.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES 6-DVD set features 13 specials from Bob’s career,
spanning five decades with dozens of celebrity guests. Highlights include:
Bob’s first studio comedy special “in living color” with
guests Jack Benny, Bing Crosby and Janet Leigh
The Bob Hope Chevy Show with the entire cast of I Love
Lucy—Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley, plus James
Cagney and Diana Dors
A hilarious spoof of Star Wars and other sketches with Tony
Bennett, Perry Como, James Garner, Mark Hamill, Dean Martin, Olivia
Newton-John, Barbra Streisand, Tuesday Weld, The Muppets and more stars
The murder-mystery parody Joys (A Comedy Whodunit) with
nearly fifty guest stars including Charo, Milton Berle, Dean Martin, Don
Rickles, George Gobel, Alan King, Don Knotts, Groucho Marx, Vincent Price andFreddie
The best of the bloopers from 30 years of Bob’s shows with George
Burns, Sammy Davis Jr., Angie Dickinson, Phyllis Diller, Burt Reynolds,
DonRickles, Brooke Shields, Elizabeth Taylor, Mr. T, John Wayne and
Bob’s 1967 USO tour to 22 bases around Vietnam, Thailand and
the South Pacific in 15 days with special guest Raquel Welch
Highlights from over 25 years of specials in Bob Hope’s
World of Comedy and the celebration Highlights of a Quarter Century of Bob Hope
A look at Bob’s personal relationships with American
presidents including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy,
and Harry S. Truman
Bob Hope’s 90th birthday celebration featuring tributes by Johnny
Carson, George Burns and many more!
EXCLUSIVE BONUS: Plus, the DVD set contains the
exclusive bonus feature Shanks for the Memory about the world of golf according
to Bob Hope, which includes historic clips of Bob with Bing Crosby,
presidents and pros on courses around the world, and special appearances by Pres.
Gerald Ford, pro golfers Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and
Trotted out towards the tail end of the early 1980s slice-'em-and-dice-'em
heyday, The Initiation is a competent
if unremarkable entry to the subgenre, notable if anything for its 'name'
casting – Psycho's Vera Miles, Clu
Gulager from long-running TV western The
Virginian – and an early performance by Daphne Zuniga; despite the fact she
receives an "introducing" credit on the opening titles, the actress
had actually appeared in an earlier slasher feature, 1982's The Dorm That Dripped Blood.
College student Kelly Fairchild (Zuniga) has been suffering
from nightmares, possibly manifested by a repressed childhood memory in which
her affluent parents (Miles and Gulager) were attacked in their home by an
intruder. Submitting herself to experimental dream therapy under the college's
psychology lecturer (James Read), Kelly is also one among a group of sorority
pledges who, as part of their initiation into Delta Rho Chi, have been tasked
with breaking into the shopping mall owned by her father’s company. She and her
friends subsequently find themselves locked in for the night, unaware that
they’re in the company of a shadowy prowler who's just stopped off in the
sports department to pick up some handy hunting goods...
Former actor Larry Stewart was an episodic television
director when he took up the reins on 1984's The Initiation and it represents his only theatrical feature. One
can see why. The pacing is painfully pedestrian, in fact aside from the
enigmatic flashback/dream sequences – which, since they’re swiftly shelved once
the stalkin’ ’n’ slashin’ kicks into gear- are clearly in situ to lay the
foundations for some dark familial revelations come the finale – the first hour
is notable only for its dearth of engaging incident. At least when the killing
begins the pace picks up a little, yet although the bursts of violence are
convincingly staged – which is more than can be said for some of those in a
number of The Initiation's genre
siblings – Stewart and screenwriter Charles Pratt, Jr fail to muster up anything
particularly imaginative; this is strictly paint-by-numbers stuff. Even the
twist ending – which despite some heavy handed attempts at audience
misdirection at least manages to remain fairly unpredictable – falls shy of unique.
Coming to the party so late in the day, The
Initiation needed something – anything
– to make it stand out; sadly it just comes up wanting.
Still, the movie looks
good, the multi-floor shopping mall location lending it a goodly measure of
production value, and the strong cast alone makes it worth a visit, especially
Vera Miles, who'd just recently revived her Psycho
heroine Lila Crane in a 23-years-later sequel. Daphne Zuniga is excellent too
and manages to eschew the script’s nudity demands, the decoration in that
respect befalling former model and future soap star Hunter Tylo. James Reid is
also entertaining as the college lecturer sidelining in unauthorised therapy; I
must admit though, whenever I see the actor I can't help but think of him as that
dodgy dentist in TV movie Columbo: Uneasy
Lies the Crown.
In summation, where seasoned slasher aficionados are
unlikely to find anything here they’ve not seen a dozen times before, as
undemanding booze'n'popcorn terrors go The
Initiation makes for an adequate enough time-passer.
Released on DVD in the UK by Arrow back in 2013, the company
has reissued the film in a newly restored Region A/B dual format Blu-Ray/DVD
package. There's a moderate level of grain present throughout the feature and
the hi-def image occasionally serves to accentuate poorly focussed shots. The
mono soundtrack is nice and clean. Extra features comprise a chatty commentary
from podcast team The Hysteria Continues, a short piece of footage from a frat
party sequence (omitted from the restoration due to the loss of the original
soundtrack) and a trailer. Additionally there are interviews with writer
Charles Pratt, Jr and supporting cast members Christopher Bradley and Joy
Jones; sadly, though perhaps to be expected, there’s no input from stars Miles
or Gulager, whilst disappointingly Zuniga is also conspicuous in her absence. Reversible
sleeve artwork and a limited edition collectors' booklet spruce up the deal.
of the more fascinating aspects of the Spanish horror film is that the
country’s most famous exports were produced during the near forty year
dictatorial regime of Falangist leader Generalissimo
Francisco Franco. In interviews
conducted following the passing of the repressive dictator in 1975, actor Paul Naschy
(the so-called “Lon Chaney of Spanish horror”) often expressed bemusement regarding
the restrictions imposed by Spanish censors on his films. Naschy’s horror films were (arguably, I
suppose) of either very modest or completely non-political in their design - if
not their subtext.
Naschy (aka Jacinto Molina Alvarez) was greatly influenced by the celebrated
cycle of gothic horror and mystery films produced by Universal Studios in the
1930s and 1940s. The primary difference
between these monochrome films and those Naschy would lens beginning 1968 is
unmistakable: most of his films,
including the colorful Count Dracula’s
Great Love (1971), owed more to the more contemporary themes and style of
Britain’s Hammer Studios. Spanish
implementation of less discreet on-screen sexuality and a seemingly limitless
supply of blood plasma packets pushed even Hammer’s edgiest offerings to the tame,
more modest borders of exploitation cinema.
the horror films released in this otherwise repressive environment were neither
produced under the tightest of restriction nor designed in an effort to avoid
offending the sensibilities of right-wing prudes. As anyone who has ever enjoyed a Paul Naschy
or Jess Franco film can attest, Spanish horror offerings of the 1960s and 1970s
are suffused with gory imagery, eroticism, savagery, envelope-pushing scenarios…
and generous dollops of female nudity.
most censorship boards, the Spaniards didn’t seem terribly concerned with flashpoints
involving on-screen immoralities or scenes of sickening violence. Their primary concern was simply that film characters
demonstrating unwholesome peccadilloes or otherwise satanic non-Christian traits
not be identified as being of wholesome Spanish heritage. So a werewolf bearing the Eastern-European the
Slavic surname of Daninsky was permitted, as were godless Hungarian vampires
and Prussian hunchbacks. Those in the Spanish
film industry were more than happy to ring international box-office cash
registers with their appropriations; the atheistic commies of Eastern Europe were
welcome to the authorship of the malevolent creatures spawned from their
Aguirre’s Count Dracula’s Great Love
(original title El Gran Amor Del Conde
Dracula) was Paul Naschy’s only on screen appearance as Brom Stoker’s
legendary vampire Count Dracula. The
actor would in his long career assume the roles of practically every vanguard monster
of the “classic horror” pantheon. In a
lengthy series of Spanish-European co-productions, Naschy would don the makeup
and costumes of vampires, mummies, hunchbacks, werewolves… he even tackled the dual
role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Well
regarded by filmmakers and contemporaries as a hard-working, earnest
actor-writer-director, he was also remembered as a humble, modest man. His greatest pride was when horror fans
whispered his name with the same reverence reserved for the greatest icons of
the genre: Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, and
opens, more or less, as nearly every other Dracula film. Following a violent breakdown of the
horse-carriage somewhere near Hungary’s mountainous Borgo Pass, a group of five
travelers - one gentleman and four buxom beauties - seek temporary help at the
supposedly derelict sanitarium of Dr. Kargos. The good doctor is nowhere to be found – at least, not yet – but the
castle’s new tenant, the soft-spoken, candelabra carrying Dr. Wendell Marlow
(Paul Naschy) soon answers the door of what’s rumored to be the ancestral home
of the Vlad (“The Impaler”) Tepes, the bloody historical Prince of Wallachia.
first sight Marlowe is no cruel Vlad Tepes. Naschy’s Marlowe is a supposed Austrian
aristocrat and an apparent softie: he’s a thoughtful and gracious sort,
self-effacing, and unrelentingly polite. In fact, when the stranded travelers are brought into the anteroom,
they’re not only immediately welcomed with courtesy but offered accommodation and
meals for the week. This is necessary,
he explains, as there are no hotels in the area; he owns no transportation modes
and his forthcoming order of supplies are seven days away.
four blond girls at first don’t seem terribly grateful for the Dr.’s generous
hospitality. One whispers a complaint almost
immediately, moaning her displeasure that the castle is a dreary, gloomy sort
of a place. If director Aguirre wanted
to convey a palatial sense of doom and menace to match that description, he was
clearly let down by his art department. The castle interiors are generally bright and immaculately clean save
for the odd cobweb or two drooping forlornly from lighting fixtures. The castle’s cellar, where the delivery of a
wooden crate of human-length proportion arrives at the film’s beginning, is a
bit more atmospheric: here we find the
stony labyrinth passageways, the moss covered walls, the rat-infested rooms we
of the stranded travelers finds the genial Dr. Marlowe a physically attractive
specimen. That said, she’s reminded by a
friend that her tastes in men are her own. The friend prefers a man “slimmer and taller.” (Naschy was hardly a cadaverous Count, a muscular
man of stocky build and approximately only 5’ 8” in height). With little alternative the girls choose to
make themselves at home, now resigned to their unplanned stay at the castle. By day two they’re making the most of it and immodestly
sunning their naked bodies in the estate’s opaque pool. Though the castle grounds are in disrepair
and in serious need of some landscaping, they discover the wooded acreage is nonetheless
conducive to long negligee-garbed walks in the moonlight.
as a burn-to-order DVD from the Universal Vault Series, some may be quick to add
that they should have kept “The Conqueror” in the vault. The movie is notorious
for being one of the worst movies in Hollywood history. Much has been written
about how terrible this movie is so I’m going to avoid jumping on that
bandwagon. After all, calling this movie bad is like calling out water for
movie is also a part of a conspiracy theory of sorts because many of the cast
and crew died from cancer and some have connected those cancer deaths to the
location filming in St. George Utah which was the stand-in for the Gobi Desert.
St. George is downwind from where the above ground nuclear testing occurred in
Nevada. Indeed, many involved with this movie did succumb to cancer including lifetime
smoker John Wayne who also denied any connection between his cancer and the St.
George location filming.
CinemaScope widescreen image for “The Conqueror” looks terrific and has an
appropriately grand score by Victor Young. The movie stars John Wayne and Susan
Hayward and features some of the best character actors of the era including
Pedro Armendariz, Agnes Morehead, Thomas Gomez, William Conrad and Lee Van
Cleef. If only the movie was the western it tries so hard to be rather than a 13th
century historical epic taking place in Central Asia.
nobody was more surprised than former actor and director of “The Conqueror”
Dick Powel when the Duke insisted on playing the lead. When asked by reporters
during production how Wayne looked as Genghis Kahn, Powell replied, “Murderous.
Just murderous.” I’d say murderous for the viewer too. While there’s a lot of
ethnicity in the cast (Native American Indians from a local reservation were
hired as extras to portray the Mongolian hordes in the movie) it’s hard to
believe that they couldn’t cast a single Asian actor in this movie.
movie pulled in a healthy profit world-wide for RKO at the time of its initial
release in 1956, but it was critically panned and is difficult to watch. “The
Conqueror” was a personal favorite of the movie’s eccentric producer Howard
Hughes who owned RKO at the time and pulled the movie from theatrical and TV distribution.
Apparently Hughes watched the movie over and over again, but it was not seen by
mortal men again until1974 after the rights reverted to Paramount. This was the
final movie that Hughes personally produced and some may say it would have been
better if he had destroyed the negatives and all copies of the movie.
Conqueror” was previously released by Universal in 2006 as part of the, “An
American Icon: John Wayne 5 Movie Collection” DVD set. That release included
the trailer, subtitles and chapters. This burn to order release appears to be produced
from the same source material because it looks and sounds identical, but includes
no extras and the movie starts up immediately after loading. “The Conqueror” is
a rare turkey for the Duke as most of his post “Stagecoach” output is very
watchable. It’s a must see for die-hard fans of the Duke and when hosting movie
nights where you want guests to leave early.
I recently wrote in relation to a review of "The Big Show" that circus movies have gone the way of the Model T. You can add to that another genre of film that used to be a Hollywood staple- the safari movies in which the hero was a great white hunter. Changing social attitudes make it unlikely we'd ever again cheer some rock-jawed leading man as he unloads some hi caliber bullets into a grazing elephant or a lazing hippo. The last word on such films was Clint Eastwood's woefully underrated (and woefully under-seen) 1990 film "White Hunter, Black Heart", which was loosely based on the hunting obsessions of director John Huston during production of "The African Queen". Nevertheless, jungle-themed adventures are still the stuff of cinematic thrills in the minds of retro movie lovers. One of the best is "Rampage", a 1963 opus directed by Phil Karlson and based on a novel by actor/screenwriter Alan Caillou. Robert Mitchum stars as Harry Stanton, known in zoological circles as the world's most eminent tracker of wild game. The Wilhelm Zoo in Germany makes him a proposition: they will finance his trip to Malaysia to track down and capture the Enchantress, a legendary one-of-a-kind animal that is said to be half-leopard and half-tiger. Part of the deal is that Harry must also return with two tigers. Harry is told he will be traveling with Otto Abbot (Jack Hawkins), an internationally famed hunter of exotic prey. Harry is invited to meet Otto at his opulent home which is unsurprisingly decorated with trophies of his more notable expeditions into the wild. However, Harry's eye goes immediately to Abbot's girlfriend Anna (Elsa Martinelli), an exotic beauty many years younger than Otto. It's clear that Abbot takes great pride in his relationship with Anna and he enjoys seeing Harry looking at her with pangs of desire. It turns out that Anna was a young girl of fourteen who had no family and who was facing a harsh life on the streets. Harry "adopted" her, presumably for humanitarian reasons but, in fact, he was grooming her to be his lover. Out of gratitude for the opulent life Abbot has afforded her, she has complied even though it is clear she would rather have a relationship with another man. It only takes a moment for she and Harry to lock eyes before both of them realize they are drawn to each other.
At first the journey to Malaysia goes well enough. While Harry personally loathes the killing of exotic animals, he respects Abbot for his achievements. However, en route to their destination, it becomes clear to Abbot that Harry and Anna are becoming increasingly flirtatious. He even tells her that she has his permission to have a fling with Harry as long as it's a short-term affair and she continues to regard him as her "real" lover. However, Harry and Anna aren't interested in a quickie sexual thrill...both of them want to build a relationship. Things become more tense when they arrive in Malaysia and begin hunting the tigers and the Enchantress. Abbot attempts to kill a a charging rhino and finds it takes him two shots to do so, which apparently is a no-no in the world of big game hunting. The failure to bag the rhino with one shot becomes a metaphor for Harry's diminishing virility. To prove he still has what it takes, he foolishly attempts to capture the Enchantress in a cave and ends up being badly mauled. It falls to Harry to capture the beast. By the time the group is back in Germany, tensions are raw. Both Harry and Anna admit that they did make love and Anna tells Abbot that, while she respects him, she has never loved him. Driven to madness at the thought of losing Anna, Abbot lures Harry into the storage room where the Enchantress is locked in a cage. He frees the animal with the expectation that it will kill Harry but, instead the beast leaps from the train and hides somewhere in Berlin. With an all-out hunt on for the dangerous animal, the film predictably finds Harry, Abbot and Anna facing off against each other as well as the Enchantress.
"Rampage" is certainly dated. It's the kind of movie where the two male antagonists-to-be dress in tuxedos for their initial meeting and drink cocktails while the leading lady saunters about the house in a lavish gown. However, the movie was ahead of its time in terms of addressing the issue of animal conservation. The film makes a poignant plea through Mitchum's character to stop the wholesale annihilation of entire species. In that respect, the film joins only two others from this era that spring into mind that were similarly-themed: John Huston's "The Roots of Heaven" (1958) and Ivan Tors' "Rhino!" (1964). Despite intelligent direction by Phil Karlson and a compelling screenplay, the movie exists to showcase its three glamorous stars. Mitchum is solid as the thinking man's tough guy, Hawkins is old world elegance and superficial charm and Martinelli has the kind of traditional sex siren persona that is all but invisible in today's film industry. The movie also benefits from some exotic locations (apparently filmed in Hawaii, not Africa) and an impressive score by Elmer Bernstein (even if the title track sounds like a combination of Monty Norman's theme for "Call Me Bwana" combined with "The Banana Boat Song".) There's even an appearance by Sabu as a guide for the hunting expedition. The movie is unusually frank for its day in its treatment of sex. Mitchum and Martinelli practically undress each other with their eyes and this aspect lends increasing tension to the inevitable mano a mano showdown between rivals Mitchum and Hawkins. "Rampage" is largely off the radar screens of retro movie lovers but that's all the more reason why the DVD release through the Warner Archive is highly recommended. (Note: the DVD contains no extras but is region-free.)
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Ted Kotcheff’s “Billy Two Hats” (1974) is one of those
off-beat kind of movies they made back in the mid-Seventies when studios still
believed in small, realistic films that focused on character more than shoot-outs,
believable story lines more than special effects and solid performances by seasoned
actors who knew their craft more than flashy histrionics by shiny boys and
girls who just stepped off the front pages of the supermarket tabloids. It’s not
a great film by any means. It’s slow, and a bit heavy handed in getting across the
themes contained in Alan Sharp’s (“Osterman Weekend,” “Ulzana’s Raid”) script,
but it’s worth watching, if only so you can say you’ve seen the only “Kosher
Western” ever made.
57-year-old Gregory Peck, speaking with a thick Scottish
accent, stars as Arch Deans, a bank robber on the run with his young Kiowa half-breed
sidekick Billy (Desi Arnaz Jr). Jack Warden is Henry Gifford, the sheriff who’s
tracking them down. Gifford is a man with no love for outlaws or Indians or
much else for that matter. He captures Billy early in the story and tells him
that he looks on him as the lowest of the low. He’s also a cynic. When they
ride out into the desert he tells Billy to stop looking for his compadre to
come to his rescue. Deans is half way to Mexico, he says, already spending the
measly $400 they stole from the bank. But out in the desert, Kotcheff gives us
a shot of Deans up in the hills watching them.
Gifford stops for the night at a general store/saloon out
in the middle of nowhere run by an old friend—an ex-buffalo hunter by the name
of Copeland (David Huddleston), who has settled down with an Apache woman. Copeland
shares Gifford’s views on Native Americans, even though he lives with one. He
tells Gifford he and his “wife” had a son but, says, he “made her give him to
In the morning, Deans comes down from the hills and rescues
Billy, wounding Gifford in the shoulder. While Copeland patches him up, Gifford
asks Deans why he came back for Billy and Deans just shrugs and says: “He’s my
partner.” After the outlaws have ridden some distance away, Gifford reminds
Copeland of his old buffalo gun hanging on the wall of the saloon. Copeland
takes it down, loads and sights it carefully, and shoots Deans’ horse out from
under him at a distance of over half a mile or more away. Deans suffers a
broken leg as a result and the fugitives double up on the remaining horse and
It takes Gifford a few days before he’s well enough to
ride. While he’s recuperating there’s the obligatory scene where Copeland and
Gifford remember the days when they could stand in one spot all day and watch
the same herd of buffalo pass from morning to night. But Gifford also tells
Copeland he just can’t figure why Deans came back for the boy. He was in the
clear. It just doesn’t make sense to him that anyone would do that, especially
for a “breed.” “I’m a reasonable man,” he says. “It’s important to me that
things make sense.”
Meanwhile Billy has made a travois (an “Indian
perambulator,” Gifford calls it) for Deans and they try to get through the
mountains to Mexico, but in a canyon they run into a handful of Apaches. They manage
to scare them off without any loss or injury, but you know they’ll be back.
Their next stop is a small cabin inhabited by a settler
named Spencer (John Pearce) and his bought- from-St.-Louis- for-$100-wife
Esther (Sian Barbara Allen). Esther stutters and Spencer slaps her in the face whenever
she gets stuck on a word. “It shakes up her brain box,” he explains. Spencer
has a wagon and after some haggling agrees to drive Deans for $100 to a town
two days away where they have a doctor.
That night Deans and Billy sleep out in the barn and
Deans suddenly recalls how Gifford asked him why he came back for him. He tells
Billy he didn’t rightly know. But he asks Billy if he ever read the Bible. “Well,
there’s a bit in it,” he says, “from the Book of Ecclesiastes, that says `Two
are better than one because they have good reward for their labor. And if they
fall, the one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him that is alone when he
falleth, for he hath not another to help him up. And if one shall prevail
against him, two shall withstand him.’”
“Billy Two Hats” is essentially a movie about loneliness,
loyalty, hatred and the need for relationships, all good ingredients for what
could have been a gripping drama of alienation and a search for meaning in a
meaningless world. But Kotcheff (“First Blood,” and “Weekend at Bernie’s”)
seems to lack the depth and sensitivity to bring out the themes and emotions
contained in Sharp’s screenplay. The film’s pace is slow and the tone so muted
that a lot of scenes fail to convey any convincing emotion.
Peck’s performance as Deans is solid and his Scottish
accent seems authentic—one of the many off-beat touches of the movie. Warden as
Gifford is as effective as ever at making his character look lived-in and
Huddleston provides good backup for him. Arnaz isn’t called on to do much, and frankly
his love scenes with Sian Barbara Allen are handled rather clumsily and are too
perfunctory to have much dramatic effect.
Despite these limitations, “Billy Two Hats” is worthy of
your attention, at least as a breather from today’s super violent comic book
movies and a reminder that they once made movies, even westerns, for grown-ups.
By the way, while it may look like the American
Southwest, “Billy Two Hats” was actually filmed in the Negev Desert in southern
Israel. Kotcheff explains in an interview included on the Blu-Ray disc that for
financial reasons they could not make the movie in the U.S. and both he and
producer Norman Jewison thought the Spanish locations used in Spaghetti
westerns had been overused. Jewison was filming “Jesus Christ Superstar” in
Israel at the time and suggested he film it there. Thus, Kotcheff says, was the
first “Kosher Western” born.
Kino Lorber has released
“Billy Two Hats” on An impressive 1920x1080p Blu-Ray that presents all the
desolate beauty of the location captured on film by cinematographer Brian West.
An interview with Kotcheff and three trailers for this film and two other
Gregory Peck movies are the extras.
John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
In “Blackmail,” (1939), Edward G. Robinson plays John
Ingram, an expert at putting out oil well fires with explosives. He’s got a
wife, Helen (Ruth Hussey) a son, Hank (Bobs Watson), and a sidekick named Moose
(Guinn “Big Boy Williams). After one of his jobs, the newspapers snap his photo
and put him on the front page. His success affords him the opportunity to buy
his first oil well. But a short time after his picture appears in the papers an
obsequious stranger, William Ramey (Gene Lockhart), shows up at the house
begging for food. He turns out to be someone from Ingram’s past, who know that
the oil man is actually a wanted fugitive who escaped from a southern chain
gang nine years ago.
To keep Ramey quiet, Ingram gives him a job, but it
doesn’t take long before Ramey keeps upping the ante. He finally tells Ingram
he knows he’s innocent of the robbery charge he was sent to the chain gang for,
because he was the one who stole the money. In a scheme that only a dumb hero
in an MGM potboiler would fall for, Ingram exchanges ownership of the well for
a signed confession. Ramey, of course is too smart for Ingram, and in the end
Ingram not only does not get the confession, he also loses the well and is
taken in by police for questioning. Next
thing you know, it’s back to the chain gang.
“Blackmail,” was released by MGM seven years after
Warners’ “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain
Gang,” (1932) starring Paul Muni. Rather than focusing on social injustice and
the deplorable conditions of Southern chain gangs, as the Warners film did,
“Blackmail” uses all that as background for what is basically a melodrama. It
was probably a smart move to go that way, since there was no way MGM, or anyone
else, could have turned out a better socially conscious chain gang movie than
the Paul Muni film.
The chain gang scenes in “Blackmail” are not bad, with
director H.C. Potter and his writers (David Hertz and William Ludwig), focusing
less on the social inequities and more on how Ingram intends to honor his
promise to his wife not to try and escape again by not letting anything that
happens on the chain gang get to him. But after learning that Ramey is planning
to sell the well, and his family is now living in near-poverty, he begins to
crack. Not only that, the sadistic guard, who he escaped from nine years ago,
is still there with his bull whip, adding to his misery. He finally makes a
break with help from his good buddy, Moose, and heads back home for a showdown
“Blackmail,” is an entertaining movie. Not every film has
to have “redeeming social value,” but it’s just too bad MGM couldn’t have come
up with a more believable plot. There are too many scenes where the characters
do things that strain credulity, especially when the film reaches its climax.
One of the problems is that Edward G, on loan to Metro,
was miscast. We’re used to him in his gangster roles—the tough guy who always comes
out on top. He gives a good performance as Ingram, but this tricky bit of
casting-against-type undermined the basic story line. As Ramey keeps squeezing him, you keep
expecting Ingram to pull a gun out of his coat and tell him: “Say, what do you
think I am? Some kind of sap? Got any last wishes?” But instead he falls hook
line and sinker for Ramey’s machinations.
Lockhart is another bit of unusual casting. Normally the
kind-hearted, sympathetic guy, as Ramey, he plays a groveling, totally
despicable snake. Those distractions wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the
plot and its unlikely twists, didn’t require so much suspension of disbelief. The
story, as contrived as it is, move along at high speed, and Ingram’s problems pile
up one after another for 81 fast minutes to the point where it seems he’ll
never resolve them. You won’t be tempted to hit the stop button on your remote
control until you reach the final frame, even though the denouement may leave
you scratching your head.
The Warner Archive has released “Blackmail” on DVD.
Picture and sound quality are very good. The only extra on the disc is the
original theatrical trailer. If you’re an Edward G. Robinson fan, or just like
chain gang movies, you’ll probably want to add this obscure title to your
John M. Whalen is the author of "Hunting Monsters is My Business: The Mordecai Slate Stories" . Click here to order the book from Amazon)
it really be 25 years since the release of The
Commitments? An acclaimed hit with audiences and critics alike when first
seen, it quickly grew in stature into something of a modern classic and has
remained perennially popular ever since. It has also inspired touring bands, a
major stage production and a few million sub-standard karaoke renditions of the
iconic Mustang Sally (and other
ditties) in pubs up and down the land.
Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) dreams of being a band manager, and places an ad
in the local paper – “Have you got soul? If so the world’s hardest working band
is looking for you.” Various losers, opportunists and drop-outs turn up at his
door to audition, but bit by bit he manages to put together an inexperienced
band comprising ten members: men, women, backing singers, guitarists,
saxophonists, a drummer and an unlikely lead vocalist in the shape of slobbish
Deco (Andrew Strong). Their specialty is soul music and, with Jimmy’s undimmed
enthusiasm driving them (“say it once, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud”)
they begin rehearsing for their debut gig. The name of the band: The
run amok among the band members, but despite their off-stage bickering they
prove surprisingly terrific on-stage.
Around Dublin their reputation grows and they find themselves on the verge of
greatness, receiving glowing reviews in the local press and growing
word-of-mouth hype. On the night of their biggest gig, saxophonist Joey ‘The Lips’
Fagan (Johnny Murphy) assures the band he has arranged for soul and R&B
legend Wilson Pickett to join them on-stage after performing his sell-out gig
in Dublin. By this point, the bands’ internal politics are at breaking point.
Can they keep their tempers at bay long enough to hit the big-time, or will
this show mark the final curtain for The Commitments?
Alan Parker does a wonderful job, creating a hilarious view of working class
Dublin. He doesn’t shy away from the bleaker, grittier elements, showing
rundown shacks used as shops in the middle of a ramshackle housing estate,
drunken pub brawls, foul-mouthed street altercations, dreary living conditions,
garbage piled high, and people bickering about sex and music through their
unremittingly glum, booze-drenched days. There is nothing glamorous about the
film: it is a feel-good movie in some
ways, but there is equally a feel-bad vibe running beneath it all at the same
band is thrown together from an advert in a local paper, with potential talents
auditioning in Jimmy’s cluttered front room, or even out on the street, while
he watches from an armchair or even from the bath-tub with his shower cap on.
Parker’s characters use words like ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ as regularly as they use
basic determiners and nouns, yet he somehow invests them with love and warmth
and makes them people worth rooting for. Over his career, Parker worked on a
number of successful musicals including Bugsy
Malone (1976), Fame (1980) and Evita (1996). Critics have drawn parallels
between The Commitments and Fame, citing this as an Irish
counterpart. Although Parker is a great director, it is surprising to note he
only has 19 directing credits to his name. With him, it’s all about quality not
quantity: he has proven himself a brilliant director across numerous genres
with films such as Midnight Express
(1978), Shoot The Moon (1982), Mississippi Burning (1988), Angela’s Ashes (1999) and The Life of David Gale (2003). Parker
shows up briefly in a Hitchcock-style cameo as a producer at Eejit Records, the
label which shows interest in signing the band.
Director John Mackenzie's powerful
and captivating 1972 kitchen sink drama Made
has been given the opportunity to find a new audience via a tasty UK Blu-Ray
release from Network Distributing.
Valerie Marshall (Carol
White) is a single mother eking out a meagre living as a London telephone
exchange operator whilst simultaneously caring for her
multiple-sclerosis-stricken mother (Margery Mason). Seemingly destined never to
find true happiness and weary of the inapposite attentions of would-be suitors,
Valerie agrees to assist priest and family friend Father Dyson (John Castle) in
chaperoning a bunch of underprivileged youths on a day trip to the seaside.
There she meets folk singer Mike Preston (Roy Harper), whose outwardly relaxed
approach to life just might pave her way to salvation.
A slightly ponderous and largely
dispiriting snapshot of early 1970s lower class Britain, I'll openly confess
that when I first saw Made I was
convinced it would leave me cold. And after its grim beginnings I smugly
concluded that I was right. Yet gradually, in forging an array of richly drawn
characterisations and harrowing narrative turns, director Mackenzie and writer
Howard Barker slyly reeled me far enough in to their sorrowful tale that by the
time curtain fall loomed I was aching for Valerie to find happiness.
So pitch perfect are the
performances of everyone involved that the film’s warts and all tactic – which
certainly doesn't pull any punches when it comes to subjects such as the
indignities of hospitalisation and the darker face of football fanaticism – varnishes
the proceedings with a distinct documentary vibe. Nowhere is this feeling more
alive than during a powerful scene in which Valerie receives a visit from a policeman;
asking to be allowed in before he imparts his awful news, and diplomatically
turning to close the door on the camera (and, by extension, us the audience), the
officer leaves us outside to shamefully eavesdrop on Valerie's torment, whilst a
lingering shot of the closed door is intercut with a succession of fleeting
images that serve to compound the heartbreak.
One can't help but feel empathic
towards Valerie as it becomes apparent that all the men in her life care about
her only to the point of satisfying their own agendas. Her milquetoast manager
at work, Mahdav (Sam Dastor), sees her solely as a sex object. Father Dyson
clearly has romantic designs on her, but his controlling nature (subtle at the
outset, less so later) eventually drives her into unexpected arms. Even
the genial Mike – who despite initial doubts as to his intentions, appears to be
wholly sincere in his feelings for Valerie – ultimately undermines his
credibility by ruthlessly exploiting the traumas in her life in the lyrics to
one of his songs.
Carol White had a fairly
varied career where screen roles were concerned, yet due to films like Poor Cow, Dulcima and Some Call it
Loving, I uncharitably tend to associate her with gloomy dramas. But as
gloomy dramas go, in this one she’s superb and I’d probably cite poor,
life-battered Valerie as representing one of her finest film performances. As
Mike, singer/songwriter Roy Harper (who composed several of the musical numbers
especially for the film) is also exceptionally good. From the moment we first
encounter him – being interviewed on Brighton seafront by legendary music
presenter "Whispering" Bob Harris – he oozes charisma and it's easy
to see why Valerie would be drawn to him. But for me the real standout is
sad-eyed Margery Mason as Valerie's ailing mother. One scene in particular, in
which she tries to console Valerie following a dreadful turn of events, is
truly heartbreaking. (As an aside, noting that Mason lived to the ripe age of
100 whereas White passed away prematurely at just 48 certainly gives one pause to
ponder the big old lottery of life.)
receipt of Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-Ray edition of Mardi Rustam’s “Evils of
the Night” (1985), I was reminded of a tired cliché drilled into my head as a
child: Don’t judge a book by its cover. The cover art, designed by Terry Levine,
a friend of Rustam’s, invokes the stereotypical “sex-crazed teens trapped in a
world of terror” vibe that horror movies of the 1980s were notorious for. However,
I held out hope as I prepared to view the disc but this hope was quickly lost
when “Exploitation TV” appeared on my screen, followed by the silhouette of a
busty woman. Despite this, I still thought: Could this be one of those “so bad
they’re good” cult classics that fans love to revisit? After all, the film
featured such well-known and respectable actors as John Carradine, Julie
Newmar, and Tina Louise, as well as fan favorites Neville Brand and Aldo Ray.
However, since these actors had only about fifteen minutes of screen time combined, we’re mostly left with a
troupe of young actors and actresses whose inexperience is not only
demonstrated on screen but also with their non-existent IMDB filmographies. Now,
after seeing the film, I am relatively certain that Carradine, Newmar, and
Louise, were very happy to be minimally involved in this mess passed off as a horror
film’s plotting is unclear and slow moving, with the first half hour of the
movie dedicated solely to embarrassingly non-erotic sex scenes included solely to
titillate the young (and male) audience of the time (Within the first fifteen
minutes, I had closed my laptop twice
in pure disgust). Even if you can make it past the first half hour of pure soft-core
pornography (actress Amber Lynn, who plays Joyce, was a fairly well-known star
in many adult films), you’re still left with a story that is underdeveloped and/or
pretty much defies logical explanation. It’s difficult to even identify the
main character(s) well into the film, as the multiple story threads go nowhere. Which group of teenagers will prevail over
the aliens and their minions, the grease monkey lackeys? More importantly, who cares? At the one hour
mark, I had to reread the back of the disc’s case to remind myself what was
going on, since none of the villains actually announced intentions for the
kidnapped teens. Although it was the intention (I think) of the filmmaker to
tell the story of vampire aliens requiring teen blood to remain youthful, we’re
left only with excessive sex-scenes and hard-to-follow ludicrous “scientific”
discussions between aliens. In an
interview included as a bonus on the disc, Rustam says that he considered “Evils
of the Night” as a horror remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951). He wishes.
would say Rustam hit a triple with “Evils of the Night.” His film is combines
bad writing, acting, and direction. However, according to the filmmaker at
least, the movie did well financially and he himself was mostly happy with the
finished product. (To be fair, “Evils of
the Night” was the first film he’d directed). In an interview recorded eight
years following the film’s release, Rustam said, “I believe it is still a good
movie for its period. I might go see again this month.” I agree with Rustam that
the film is a product of its time. Although I doubt a film such as this could
possibly break into today’s market, its “ample nudity and moments of splattery
gore” do mark it as a true horror film of the 1980s. However, unlike director Rustam,
it’s doubtful I will revisit this film within the month— if ever again.
Olive Films has released a Blu-ray edition of the little-remembered and rarely seen 1979 film "The Outsider", a powerful drama directed by Tony Luraschi , who seemingly had a bright career but who, instead seems to have fallen into obscurity. This seems to be one of only two films he was ever credited with. The reasons for this remain unclear, given the fact that "The Outsider" is a powerful film that has retained its bite over the decades. One can only wonder why a work of such passion could not have inspired its director to continue to direct movies, although perhaps fate prevented him from doing so. (If any readers has any information to share about this, please let us know.) The film is set in Northern Ireland during the height of "The Troubles", that seemingly endless period of time when nation was torn apart by state of virtual civil was. The IRA routinely battled British forces on the streets of major cities, turning urban centers into virtual war zones at times. There were also loyalist paramilitary groups that did not want independence for Northern Ireland and who wanted to stay loyal to the crown. The end result was a series of bombings, gun battles and kidnappings that ultimately took thousands of lives and left the civilian population in grave danger. The Good Friday peace agreement, brokered by Prime Minister Tony Blair with enthusiastic backing of President Bill Clinton, finally brought about an end to most of the violence but this didn't take place until 1998 and until then, the bloody legacy of Irish fighting Irish forever seared the nation's history.
In "The Outsider", Craig Wasson plays Michael Flaherty, a disillusioned Vietnam War veteran of Irish descent who grew up under the spell of his grandfather (Sterling Hayden), who continues to relate stories about his glory days serving in the IRA and carrying out dangerous missions against the British. Michael decides to make his grandfather proud by leaving the family home in Detroit to join up with the IRA. He manages to make the proper contacts and when he gets to Ireland, he is promptly met by members of an IRA group located in the Catholic dominated Republic of Ireland. Here his new comrades greet him politely but warily and with good reason: traitors are not uncommon in the movement and there is suspicion Michael might be a British plant. Finally convinced he is sincere, they move him from safe house to safe house, much to his frustration. Michael is eager to see action against the British but all he gets are delays. After griping that he feels he is wasting his time, the IRA commander sends him and another agent on a mission that requires them to cross the border into Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK and the geographical area where most of the acts of violence are carried out in the quest to have both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland reunited as one country, independent of British rule. When Michael arrives in Belfast, he finds the city resembling a war zone with bombed-out buildings and an occupying force of machine gun-carrying British forces on seemingly every corner. While he awaits his orders for the mission, he meets and strikes up a romantic relationship with Siobahn (Patricia Quinn), a firebrand of a young woman who hates the British for killing her younger brother. Although she is not officially with the IRA, she is trusted by them and provides cover for their actions. As Michael impatiently awaits making himself useful, a cruel deception is under way. The local IRA commander has come to the conclusion that Michael could be more valuable dead than alive. He theorizes that if the IRA murders him and frames the British, the result will outrage Irish American sympathizers in the USA who would then increase their monetary donations to the group. Simultaneously, the local British commander (Geoffrey Palmer) has had Michael under surveillance and has also concluded that he could be quite valuable dead- especially if the blame could be placed on his IRA comrades. Meanwhile, Michael is oblivious to all this and is finally given orders to proceed on a mission- but it's one that is intended to be his last. The film ends with a shocking revelation relating to Michael's family that sets up an emotional last scene.
"The Outsider" is a highly accomplished work and is superbly directed by the aforementioned Tony Luraschi. It's a pity that, for whatever reason, he never chose or perhaps had the opportunity to continue making films. The movie is also outstanding in terms of casting with even minor roles played so convincingly that at times you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a documentary. The story does manage to deftly tip-toe through the tulips when it comes to passing judgment on the political implications of the events depicted. Both the British military and the IRA members are presented in an unflattering light. How you react to the film probably depends on your personal view of the politics involved. After all, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. If there is a criticism of the film, it's related to the script, which is unrelentingly downbeat. Surely even IRA members managed to have a laugh and a joke occasionally in a pub but in "The Outsider", everyone is downbeat, depressed and paranoid. Still, the Olive Films Blu-ray is most welcome and very highly recommended. There is only one disappointment: the presentation is bare bones. With a film associated with this much controversy, there should have been a commentary track with scholars who can discuss Ireland's infamous "Troubles" so that the script can be discussed in context. Highly Recommended.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment:
Horror fans are sure to rejoice when a terrifying trio of
Stephen King’s screen adaptations -- “Salem’s Lot,” “Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye”
and “Stephen King’s It” (a best-seller on DVD and one of King’s most popular TV
miniseries) – debuts with all-new 2016 high definition masters on Blu-ray™ from
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, just in time for a haunting Halloween on
The three films based on the best-selling author’s novels
and short stories are among his most popular and feature a variety of film and
TV stars, including Drew Barrymore, Tim Curry, James Mason, Richard Masur,
Annette O’Toole, John Ritter, David Soul, Richard Thomas and James Woods, among
others. Each title will be available to own on Blu-ray for $14.97 SRP.
Stephen King is the author of more than 50 books, all of
them worldwide bestsellers. In addition to these new Blu-ray titles, some of
his most noted works include Carrie, The Shining, Pet Sematary, The Dead Zone,
Misery, The Green Mile, The Stand, and The Shawshank Redemption. Recent work
includes End of Watch, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Finders Keepers, Mr. Mercedes,
Doctor Sleep, and Under the Dome. King’s books have been translated into 33
different languages and have been published in over 35 different countries. The
recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts and the
2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished
Contribution to American Letters, King lives in Maine and Florida with his
wife, novelist Tabitha King.1 The author’s 11.22.63, produced by
J.J. Abrams and starring James Franco, is currently
available on Blu-ray™ from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
About the Films:
“Salem’s Lot” (1979)
Sinister events bring together a writer (David Soul)
fascinated with an old hilltop house; a suave antiques dealer (James Mason)
whose expertise goes beyond bric-a-brac; and the dealer’s mysterious,
pale-skinned “partner” (Reggie Nalder) in “Salem’s Lot” -- a blood-curdling
shocker based on King’s novel and directed by Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist).
• All-new Feature-Length Audio Commentary by Director Tobe
A wandering supernatural feline’s adventures provide the
linking story for “Stephen King‘s Cat's Eye” -- a dead-on ‘thrillogy’ scripted by King and directed
by Lewis Teague (Cujo). The staff at Quitters Inc. promises to help nicotine
fiend Dick Morrison (James Woods) kick the habit. Next, a luckless gambler
(Robert Hays) is forced into a bet involving a stroll around a building – on
the five-inch ledge encircling the 30th floor. Finally, our wayfarer kitty
rescues a schoolgirl (Drew Barrymore) from a vile, doll-sized troll.
• Feature-Length Commentary by Director Lewis Teague
October 1957: "It" awakens and the small town of
Darry, Maine will never be the same. Stephen King brings to life every childhood
fear and phobia as seven children face an unthinkable horror which appears in
various forms, including “Pennywise” (Tim Curry), a clown who lives, hunts and
kills from the towns sewers. Years later, the surviving adults who are brave
enough return to stop the new killing spree, this time for good.
• Commentary by Director Tommy Lee Wallace and Actors Dennis
Christopher, Tim Reid, John Ritter and Richard Thomas
Here's a real find on YouTube: color behind-the-scenes footage from the 1962 D-Day classic "The Longest Day". It's a hodgepodge of disjointed silent clips showing wounded British soldiers, a glider and Ken Annakin directing Peter Lawford and Richard Todd in the battle for a bridge.
Many a director and/or star of hardcore porn movies has fantasized about establishing a career in mainstream cinema. Many have tried but few have achieved this goal. Among those who aspired to greater heights was Carlos Tobalina, who had established himself as one of the more innovative and stylish directors of porn flicks in the 1980s. Tobalina's micro-budget productions attempted to go beyond the low demands of the "raincoats-across-the-lap" crowd. Tobalina would attempt to present more fully fleshed-out story lines and occasionally succeeded in getting credible performances from his cast members. His films were relatively high budget at the time due to extensive location shoots. He was also an aspiring actor and would appear in small roles in his own films. By 1985, Tobalina felt the time was right to make his move into mainstream fare. The VHS revolution was now in full swing and suddenly consumers could watch porn in the privacy of their own homes without having to slip into a local X-rated theater in the hopes of not being recognized by friends and neighbors. Soon, porn movies would mostly be shot directly for the home video market, resulting in even lower production standards and films that could be shot in a matter of hours instead of days or weeks. The home video revolution would virtually ensure the death knell of grind house movie theaters that specialized in hardcore flicks. Perhaps Tabolina saw the writing on the wall when he went full throttle with his most ambitious project, a crime thriller titled "Flesh and Bullets". In reality, the movie had an earlier incarnation, "The Wife Contract". Both versions were unacknowledged remakes of Alfred Hitchcock's classic "Strangers on a Train" which presented the delicious concept of a man who encounters an eccentric fellow traveler in a private car on a commuter train. The two men in Hitchcock's film pass the time of day by debating whether a perfect crime could be committed. They agree that if the murderer had no prior connection to the victim, it could. The men both lay out a playful scenario in which they each name a person they would like the other man to kill in a morbid pact. One of the men clearly believes it was all a sick joke-until the person he named as his intended victim turns up dead and his "friend" from the train now expects him to commit murder as his part of the pact. Tobalina's film presents a different scenario based on the same concept. Roy (Glenn McKay) is a distraught man who is going through the strains of providing alimony and child support for his ex-wife Dolores (Cydney Hill) and their young daughter Gina (Gina Tobalina, you-know-who's real life daughter). Jeff (Mick Morrow) is also in dire straits trying to pay alimony to his ex, Gail (Susan Silvers). The two men have a chance meeting in a Las Vegas bar and form a pact to kill each other's spouse. Both of them have some experience with death. Roy has seen action in Vietnam and Jeff confides he once murdered two gay wrestlers who raped him (they are rather insensitively listed in the final credits as "Homo Wrestlers"!). To ensure that they each carry out their part of the pact, they agree that if either of them fails to do so, he will be marked for death by the other man.
Mai Lin is among the adult film stars who make cameos in the film.
Tobalina had a fool-proof scenario on which to base his film...after all, Hitchcock had ironed out most of the kinks. The screenplay, also written by Tobalina, follows the efforts of Roy and Jeff to ingratiate themselves to the other man's wife. In doing so, they both unexpectedly fall in love with the woman they have promised to kill. Yet, if they don't carry out the murder, they will be marked for death themselves. Tabolina does the best he can with his limited resources but although he may have had more talent than the average porn director, the crudeness of his techniques and clunky production values make it clear that the movie was shot by an amateur. Tobalina tries to paper over this fact with a few distractions by casting some porn actresses in small legit roles in order to use their names in the promotional materials, but their core fans will be disappointed because this is one Tobalina production that has a bare minimum of sex and nudity. Tobalina also goes with the old misleading trick of getting some veteran actors involved in the film. Thus, we see "special performances" by Yvonne De Carlo, Cesar Romero, Aldo Ray and Cornel Wilde, mostly in blink-and-you'll miss them roles that were inserted to simply give the film a bit of Hollywood glam. (Cult actor Robert Z'Dar also appears). Tabolina also had to shoot some of the film on the fly as certain locations obviously required permits he couldn't or wouldn't obtain. There are also some miscued sound effects that prove to be distracting. The performances range from laughably bad to adequate, with even old pros Wilde and Ray looking like they were filmed in a first read through of the script. (Sadly, this proved to be Wilde's final film appearance. He looks suitably embarrassed and even had to suffer the indignity of having his name misspelled in the final credits!) Leading man Glenn McKay is very much of the beefy, hirsute hunks who were all the rage in the era of "Magnum P.I." His co-star Mick Morrow, however, suffers the distraction of having one of the most unbecoming hair styles ever seen on film, thus making him look like a cross between a Medieval page boy and Farrah Fawcett. Not surprisingly, neither McKay or Morrow has any other on-screen appearance in their credits. The film is not without its enjoyable elements, however. The plot is consistently engrossing and you tend to give special dispensation to all involved for working with a tiny budget and low-end production values. Where Tabolina, the screenwriter, blows it is in the final sequence which could have been dramatically effective. However, he wimps out and goes the way of a happy ending that makes the viewer feel cheated.
The Vinegar Syndrome release, which has salvaged the film from obscurity, is first rate. The transfer looks terrific and there is the welcome inclusion of Tobalina's original cut of the film, "The Wife Contract". Granted, they have had to resort to using a grainy Dutch VHS copy as the master, but the language is in English and it does provide an interesting look of how Tabolina drastically recut the movie for its final version. An original trailer, hosted by Cesar Romero and playing up the genuine stars, is also included though if the film ever did manage to find some play dates in theaters, they must have been few and far between. It's hard to recommend "Flesh and Bullets" as mainstream entertainment but, as a retro curiosity of a director's bold but failed attempt to break into the mainstream, it is certainly worth a look.
It took Sean Connery years to successfully cast aside the shadow of James Bond and establish himself as a diverse actor. Connery had made some fine non-Bond films even during the peak of 007 mania - The Hill, Woman of Straw, A Fine Madness and Marnie. Each of these worthy efforts afforded Connery a role that was significantly different than that of Bond but, much to his frustration, all of them were box-office disappointments, although he did have the satisfaction of seeing The Hill win international acclaim. When Connery left the Bond series in 1968, he made some more fine films. The Western Shalako was an international box-office success, as was The Anderson Tapes, which cast him as a charismatic crook. Yet, Martin Ritt's The Molly Maguires, an ambitious film about exploited coal miners, failed to click with audiences, as did The Red Tent, which afforded Connery top-billing even though he only had a supporting role. Connery returned to the Bond fold in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever and then quit the part once again. He gave one of the finest performances of his career in Sidney Lumet's micro-budget drama The Offence, but it played in only a few art houses before slipping into oblivion. John Boorman's Zardoz, which has attracted a cult following today, was a critical and box-office flop at the time of its release, as was a minor Connery thriller The Terrorists (aka Ransom). But Connery was not about to be counted out. He scored with Murder on the Orient Express, The Wind and the Lion, Robin and Marian, The Great Train Robbery and, most significantly, The Man Who Would Be King. All were critical successes even if they were not blockbusters. Connery also played a key role in the WWII epic A Bridge Too Far, a fine and underrated film. Soon thereafter, however, his choice of film projects became erratic. Although the films Cuba, Wrong is Right and Outland all under-performed at the box-office, they at least afforded him the opportunity to work with acclaimed directors Richard Lester, Richard Brooks and Peter Hyams, respectively. But the cheesy disaster flick Meteor could only be attributed to the desire to make a fast buck.
As Connery matured as a man and actor he still would take on films with limited commercial appeal if he felt the project was artistically rewarding. This was the case with the 1982 film Five Days One Summer which proved to be the final cinematic work of Oscar-winning director Fred Zinnemann, who had made such classics as High Noon and From Here to Eternity. Zinnemann had scored a late career triumph in 1977 with Julia but hadn't made a film since. The movie was an odd choice for both men since the story was small in scale and seemed to have no hope of attracting mainstream audiences. Five Days is very much an art house movie that was nevertheless given wide release based solely on Connery's presence as the leading man. Predictably, it had a quick playoff to largely empty theaters but perhaps more surprisingly, the critics who had lauded Zinnemann with praise for Julia now accused him of making a film that was too small in scope for a collaborative project with Sean Connery. Zinnemann was seventy-four years old when he made the movie and perhaps he felt he had paid his dues to the big studios over the decades. Now in the twilight of his years he might have simply wanted to make a very personal film that appealed to him, if not everyone else. The script is based on a 1929 short story, Maiden Maiden by Kay Boyle. The film was shot under this title before the decision was made to change it to the equally ambiguous Five Days One Summer. In fact, Maiden Maiden was a more intriguing title because it has a dual reference. The first is the the female protagonist of the story and the second is to The Maiden, an imposing mountain in the Swiss Alps where some dramatic events occur. The story concerns the taboo relationship between Kate (Betsy Brantley), an attractive young woman in her mid-twenties and her uncle Douglas (Sean Connery), a successful doctor in his fifties. Since she was a little girl Kate has had an uncontrollable crush on Douglas and as she grew older, came to resent his wife Sarah (Jennifer Hilary). Director Zinnemann zig-zags back and forth in time to show how a schoolgirl crush developed into a forbidden sexual relationship that finds Kate excluding any other potential lover in favor of Douglas. She alternates between joy and depression, the latter mood hitting her whenever she dwells on the fact that she can never be in anything but a secret relationship with the man she loves. Even if Douglas were to get a divorce, the incestuous love affair could never be made public.
The main part of the film concerns Douglas and Kate pulling off a risky holiday trip that will allow them to spend time together in a remote lodge in the Swiss Alps where they can indulge in their mutual passion for hiking and climbing. To avoid any suspicions, she poses as Douglas's wife in a May/December romance. At first she is as giddy as a schoolgirl because she can finally share a bed with Douglas and they can openly express affection for each other. Things get complicated, however, when their hiking guide turns out to be Johann (Lambert Wilson), a handsome young man who is Kate's age. From minute one he awakens long suppressed sexual desires in her for someone other than Douglas, who immediately perceives the unspoken attraction between the two. The trio enjoy a cordial and professional relationship as the hike and take in the scenic wonders around them. However, Johann becomes more forthright when he learns that Kate isn't married to Douglas (though she does not confide he is her uncle). Johann is outraged and tries to convince her to leave him, telling her that she is in a dead-end love affair with a married man that can't end well. Meanwhile, on a dangerous hike with Douglas, Johann also confronts him while they are atop the summit of the Maiden (not the most opportune place to have an argument with each other.) Douglas maintains that he is not using Kate and really loves her. Meanwhile, she has made up her mind to leave Douglas and marry Johann. Before she can give Douglas a "Dear John" letter, word comes that there has been a disaster on the mountain and that one of the men in her life has been killed in an avalanche. In the final scene, she sees a distant figure emerging from the snowy mountain landscape, staggering towards her and a group of rescuers. Is it her lover or her would-be lover? Either way, the result will affect her life in a dramatic way forever.
"Five Days One Summer" has been likened to the German "mountain romances" that were enormously popular in pre-WWII Germany. These films were known to have skimpy plots but magnificent scenery. If critics were kind to any aspect of the movie, it was Giussepe Rotunno's impressive cinematographer. Most reviewers wondered what it was about this modest story that appealed to Fred Zinnemann, who worked infrequently but generally made "important" movies. Despite the low-key nature of the scenario that unfolds on-screen, there is much to like about the film. The performances are first-rate with newcomers Brantley and Wilson making both faring well in their first major roles in a feature film. (Ironically, Wilson screen-tested for the role of James Bond in "Octopussy" when it seemed doubtful that Roger Moore would return to the 007 franchise.) Connery dominates the film, however, with an excellent performance playing a complex character who at times is sympathetic and at other times somewhat of a villain. He's all superficial charm but he cruelly risks destroying his niece's own life by using her as a bed mate. There's no doubt he loves her, but it's clear he isn't about to endanger his marriage to be closer to her. When she finally expresses her frustration and threatens to leave him for Johann, he reacts violently and slaps her. Equally complex is the character of Kate. We're left to speculate as to just why her obsession with Douglas has presumably led to the exclusion of any other men in her life. In this respect, the script is either lacking or intriguing, depending upon the views of individuals in the audience. The only easily definable character is that of Johann. He's a young man of simple means who has no interest in the world outside of the immediate domain in which he was raised. When he is smitten by Kate, his goal isn't to share her life experiences but rather, to incorporate her into his own world. In this respect, Kate's choices of lovers have one thing in common: they both want her to submit to their ideas about what is in her best interests. Douglas has clearly deluded himself into believing that his relationship with Kate is not harmful to her. Johann offers her a more independent, traditional life but still makes it clear that if she marries him, she would have to be content to live in a beautiful but remote mountain region. The end of the tale finds Kate finally exerting her own will and finding a determination to pursue her own destiny.
"Five Days One Summer" is barely remembered, let alone discussed, in evaluations of Sean Connery and Fred Zinnemann's careers. However that shouldn't negate its many merits. I liked the film far more today than I did upon its initial release. The Warner Archive has released the film on DVD. The transfer is a bit problematic. Some of the sequences in the lush mountain areas do justice to the magnificent cinematography but certain other scenes have excessive grain. Additionally, interiors are over-saturated to the point that characters who are seen in dimly lit rooms are sometimes reduced to shadowy blobs. The film is a prime candidate for a Blu-ray, remastered edition. The only bonus extra is the original trailer. It is a region-free release.
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Vinegar Syndrome has done it again. They’ve
unearthed another rare, almost forgotten 70s flick for our viewing pleasure and
I couldn’t be happier. This time it’s the wholly mistitled, but extremely
interesting 1972 whodunit, Night of the
Directed by Joy N. Houck, Jr. (Night of Bloody Horror, Creature from Black
Lake), Night of the Strangler begins
when a pregnant, young woman (Susan McCullough) returns home to New Orleans and
breaks the news to her racist brother, Dan (James Ralston from What’s Love Got to Do with It), that the
father of her child is black. Dan flips out, begins beating her and even
threatens to kill both her and her boyfriend before being stopped by younger
brother Vance (The Monkees’Mickey
Dolenz). Not long after, the sister’s boyfriend is killed by a sniper (Patrick
Wright from Revenge of the Cheerleaders).
This horrible act sets off a chain of gruesome murders that has homicide
lieutenant De Vivo (Michael Anthony) baffled. Can the clueless lawman find the
murderer before he kills again and again and again?
Although the title would have you believe
that you are about to watch a horror movie, Night
of the Strangler is more of a mystery thriller influenced by awful,
real-life events such as the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King; not
to mention the Vietnam War. The title makes no sense as there are no strangulations
in the entire film. There are shootings, stabbings, drowning; even death by
snakebite and poisonous arrows, but absolutely no strangling. So, is the movie
any good? I very much enjoyed it. Filmed in New Orleans, this well-done,
low-budget feature will definitely keep you guessing. I wouldn’t go so far as
to say that it’s a lost classic, but it’s a pretty engaging, solidly written and
directed movie with decent characterizations, which also benefits from some
wonderful performances. To begin with, Mickey Dolenz is terrific as the
understanding and peaceful younger brother. Dolenz comes off as extremely
likeable and even a little humorous in spots. Up next, James Ralston gives a
fun, over-the-top performance as the racist and almost sociopathic Dan. Ralston
gives it everything he’s got and he really makes you hate this character. Also,
Michael Anthony is pleasant and convincing in his role as Lt. De Vivo and
there’s a nicely balanced performance by Chuck Patterson (The Five Heartbeats) as a benevolent priest.
Night of the
been released on DVD (for the very first time) by Vinegar Syndrome. The disc is
region free and the movie is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
There are no special features. The film print itself (which has been scanned
and restored in 2K from The American Genre Film Archive’s 35mm theatrical
print) is mostly filled with excellent-looking, extremely clear images, but
does contain a few scratchy/grainy moments. This, however, does not detract
from the viewing experience one bit. As a matter of fact, it seems appropriate
being that this flick is really a nice piece of retro grindhouse cinema. If,
like me, you’re an obscure cinema enthusiast; especially from the 1970s, I
recommend taking a look at Night of the
Universal has released "Counterpoint", the 1967 film that Charlton Heston fans have long sought on DVD. The WWII drama requires a bit of historical context before getting into the main plot. By December 1944, the Third Reich was crumbling rapidly. Allied forces were on the doorstep of Germany itself and victory was assumed to be only a matter of weeks away. However, Adolf Hitler had an ace up his sleeve. On December 16 he unleashed a massive secret reserve of tank forces in a surprise attack on Americans in Belgium. The Yanks were caught completely off guard as Panzers raced toward their goal of recapturing the port city of Antwerp. Hitler knew that if he succeeded in taking possession of this strategic city he could prolong the war indefinitely. Because German forces had to move at a lightning pace before Americans could regroup, they were given grim orders from the high command to execute prisoners because they could not spare the resources to imprison and care for them. This resulted in the infamous Malmedy Massacre in which dozens of American POW's were shot dead by German troops. (Bill O'Reilly of Fox News is responsible for bungling history and causing outrage for claiming in 2006 on his TV show that it was helpless German troops who were slaughtered by Americans- a "fact" still believed by many who heard the segment.) What is true is that Americans retaliated with identical orders and there were instances of German who were shot dead after surrendering. Ultimately, Hitler's bold gamble, which became known as The Battle of the Bulge, failed. After strong initial success, due largely to the fact that the U.S. air corps was grounded due to poor weather, the tide turned. The weather improved and the Americans had mastery of the skies. They took a devastating toll on the Panzer corps, which itself was starved for fuel. Ultimately, the entire strategy was deemed one of the worst military blunders in history. Hitler had expended his last reserves that could have been used to defend Germany. Defeat followed and within six months, Hitler would commit suicide and his "Thousand Year Reich" would have lasted less than a decade.
It is against this intriguing backdrop that the plot of "Counterpoint" (which was filmed under the title "Battle Horns") takes place. The film opens immediately before the German counter-offensive. With victory in sight, complacent Americans feel comfortable inviting USO troupes into Belgium to entertain the G.Is. Among them is a world famous symphonic orchestra led by its larger-than-life conductor Lionel Evans (Charlton Heston). The maestro is conducting a concert in the ruins of bombed out palace when a sudden German bombardment throws everything into chaos. As American troops rush to gather arms, the 70 member orchestra attempts to flee in a bus. They are captured within minutes and taken to an ancient cathedral that serves as the command HQ of German General Schiller (Maximillian Schell). His second-in-command, Col. Arndt (Anton Diffring) has already been executing American prisoners and intends to do the same with the members of the orchestra, despite Evans' protests that they are civilians. Before the execution can take place, their lives are spared by Schiller, who has an appreciation for classical music and who admires Evans, having seen him conduct before the war. Schiller proposes a deal to Evans: he will spare everyone's life if he agrees to stage a private concert for Schiller. Evans, a headstrong, arrogant man, refuses. He suspects that Schiller will kill the musicians anyway and does not want to give him the satisfaction of having them perform for him. A battle of wills begins between two equally stubborn men. Complicating matters for Evans is the fact that two American soldiers are masquerading as members of the orchestra. Then there is the additional complication of Evans' relationship with cellist Anabelle Rice (Kathryn Hays). The two were once lovers but Annabelle left Evans to marry Victor Rice (Leslie Nielsen), who is Evans' assistant conductor. Evans is still carrying a torch for her and when the troupe is imprisoned in a dank basement within the cathedral, old tensions between the two arise once more. Schiller first tries to woo Evans by treating everyone humanely and ensuring they are comfortable and well-fed. However, he makes it clear that time is running out, as he must join forces at the front line. Ultimately, Evans relents due to pleas from his orchestra members who are on the verge of panic. However, he cautions that they will be killed as soon as the concert ends. He is correct, as Schiller has agreed to turn the orchestra over to Col. Arndt, who has already had a mass grave dug in anticipation of the executions. Evans buys as much time as possible by telling Schiller the troupe needs extensive rehearsals. During this period, he helps the two G.I.'s attempt to escape. He also secures access to a pistol and devises a plan in which the orchestra will resist their executioners and attempt to escape in the bus as soon as Schiller's concert has ended. They will be aided by a small group of Belgian partisans who will launch a diversionary attack.
"Counterpoint" represented only one in a list of films in which Charlton Heston played characters who were arrogant, conceited and often self-absorbed. (i.e "The War Lord", "Khartoum", "Planet of the Apes", "Number One", "The Hawaiians" ). As Evans he selfishly risks the lives of dozens of people rather than to lose face in his psychological war of wills with Schiller. Refreshingly, when the final shoot-out takes place, Evans doesn't transform into a typical Heston action hero and it's amusing to watch the future president of the NRA have to be coached in how to use a hand gun. The film was shot on the cheap, as so many Universal productions were during this era. Literally every frame was filmed on the studio back lot, but because of the claustrophobic nature of the script, the overall impact isn't diminished by the penny-pinching. Heston gives a powerful performance as one of the more flawed characters he has played and he is quite convincing in scenes in which he conducts the orchestra. He is matched by Maximillan Schell, who is all superficial charm and charisma. Kathryn Hays is quite good as the woman caught between two lovers and Leslie Nielsen reminds us that he was once a good dramatic actor before going the "Naked Gun" route late in his career. Ralph Nelson directs the intelligent screenplay and milks a good deal of tension from certain scenarios and an additional pleasure is hearing classical music played so brilliantly. "Counterpoint" may not be a classic but the offbeat nature of the story, combined with the talents of an inspired cast, make it a winner.
The Universal DVD is as bare bones as usual with nary a single bonus feature but the transfer is excellent.
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With so few quality roles afforded to actors of a certain age bracket, I looked forward to viewing "Grandma", the 2015 independent film that won very favorable reviews for Lily Tomlin in the title role. Indeed, Tomlin received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress and the film was named one of the ten best independent movies of the year by the prestigious National Board of Review. Thus, I approached the film, which was written and directed by Paul Weitz, with a positive attitude and optimistic expectations. That mood lasted about three minutes into the movie when we are introduced to Elle (Tomlin), an older but still very independent woman who was a firebrand in her day. She received a bit of fame for her provocative poetry but in recent decades hasn't written anything of merit. In fact, she hasn't written anything at all for the last four years. The first we see of Elle, she is cruelly breaking up her relationship with her decades-younger lesbian lover, Olivia (Judy Greer) and informs her to leave her keys to their apartment and get out. Elle doesn't say specifically when she is intent on breaking the younger woman's heart but when Olive reluctantly leaves, Elle breaks down crying. Did she act like a villain in order to do what she felt was best for Olive in the long run? Presumably so, but as we follow Elle around in the course of one long day, it becomes apparent that this off-the-wall counterculture type does indeed possess a mean temper that can flare up at a moment's notice and over the slightest perceived provocation. Elle gets plenty provoked, too, when her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) turns up on her doorstep to ask for $600 so she can get an abortion later that afternoon. She's too afraid to tell her own mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), a single mother who is a successful business executive with little time for anyone but her colleagues. We learn that Lily gave birth to Judy after becoming pregnant through a artificial insemination. Judy was raised by Elle and the love of her life, Vi, who now been dead for a number of years, a tragedy that Elle has never fully recovered from. One might think that the sight of her own granddaughter in desperate straits might solicit some sympathy from Elle, but instead she tosses out obscene insults to the young girl. But don't feel too sorry for Sage...she's got a foul mouth of her own. Thus, our introduction to the two main protagonists of the story is through a stream of vile obscenities and insults. I realized early on that I still had an entire movie to spend with these less-than-lovable characters. Indeed, things only go downhill from there...and fast.
Screenwriter Weitz practically twists himself into a pretzel to rationalize some very irrational behavior on the part of Elle and Sage. For starters, although Elle seems to be living comfortably in a fairy nice apartment, she informs Sage that her entire net worth is only about $40. The fact that a woman in her seventies who is living in L.A. would be worth only $40 is ludicrous to the point of distraction. The script provides an explanation: Elle was tired of being in debt for medical bills relating to Vi's care so she used every penny of savings to pay off that debt. Uh-huh. When Sage asks the obvious question- doesn't she have credit cards- Elle explains that she cut them up as a symbolic act and turned the shredded cards into a decorative piece of art. Uh-huh. Elle nevertheless agrees to assist her granddaughter in raising the required cash. They pile into her ancient, mechanically-challenged automobile and set off to visit Sage's boyfriend who promised to get the money for the abortion. They find him to be a self-centered, uncaring cynic. So Grandma does what grandmas do best- she slams the boyfriend in the crotch, causing him much pain and also inspiring this writer to once again make a plea to script writers: the "shot in the crotch" joke was funny just once. It was way back in 1969 when Paul Newman kicked Ted Cassidy where it hurts in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". Ever since then, it's been a cheap mechanism to get an even cheaper laugh. Please retire this tired device. Next stop on the Elle/Sage road trip to through Hell is a visit to a free clinic where destitute young women can get abortions. Sounds sensible. However, when they arrive at the location they discover the clinic has closed or moved and has been replaced by a boutique coffee shop. Neither Elle or Sage has enough smarts to take the obvious course of action: simply Google "women's clinics" on Sage's cell phone to find out where they alternately get the procedure done. Instead, they decide to patronize the coffee shop where Elle lets loose with a loud stream of obscenities. When the owner politely asks them to leave, Elle goes into a tirade of more obscenities. Presumably this is to further establish her anti-Establishment credentials and endear her to the audience. ("Hey, Granny's still got it!") The attempt fails, however, for the simple reason that no sane person would enjoy sitting in a coffee shop listening to some ex-hippie blather filthy language. Elle and Sage next visit one of Elle's friends who had expressed an interest in buying some presumably rare first edition books that Elle hopes will cover the cost of Sage's abortion. When the woman offers her only $50, Elle goes into another tirade of obscenities- despite the fact that Sage had researched the value of the books and informed her they were almost worthless.
The film goes into a new direction when, out of desperation, Elle decides to visit her ex-husband Karl (Sam Elliott) in the hopes of getting some cash. They haven't seen each other in many years and since they've been divorced Sam has been through several marriages. At first their reunion is civil but when Karl agrees to give the money, there is a caveat: he wants some fast sex. Elle refuses and a Pandora's Box of old resentments spills out into the open, with Karl still angry that his wife turned out to be unfaithful- and a lesbian, to boot. Elle finally shames him into parting with the money but when he learns it's for an abortion, he relents on moral grounds, which in the eyes of screenwriter Weitz immediately makes him a villainous character. (Even if you're politically and socially liberal, the heavy-handed propaganda messages contained in the script will probably make you roll your eyes.) Ultimately, Elle and Sage reluctantly visit Sage's mother Judy at her place of business. It's a sterile environment and we see that, as an executive, she has the reputation of a female Captain Bligh. She and Elle have been estranged for quite some time and Judy is non-too-happy to learn her daughter needs an abortion. Like Elle and Sage, Judy peppers her sentences with obscenities, thus indicating that the acorns don't fall far from the tree in this family. Ultimately, everyone ends up at the abortion clinic but not before screenwriter Weitz can insert another political dig: Elle encounters a young mother and her adorable looking little daughter outside the clinic where the mom is protesting abortions. When Elle tries to make nice with the little girl, she receives a black eye. It might strike one as being tasteless to use a small child to make a political statement but everyone in Grandma is vile and vulgar, so why should the toddlers be any different? In the last fifteen minutes or so, the problems are resolved and Elle makes up with Olivia. It's the only section of the film in which the characters are given anything close to admirable human emotions but it's too little too late.
Grandma is an offensive film and I say that as someone who routinely reviews vintage X-rated fare for this web site. The difference is that outright pornography isn't pretentious but Grandma certainly is. Paul Weitz can be commended for inspiring his actors to give excellent performances but the value of the production pretty much ends there. I have never met anyone like the people in this film and if I did, I certainly wouldn't want to be in their company for one minute longer than I had to. Why, then, would a viewer want to spend the running time of this film (a mercifully brief 79 minutes) digesting a barrage of filthy language spouted by unsympathetic characters? Even Sage, a young girl facing a great trauma, comes across as a vile ingrate, making demands more than asking for help. Lily Tomlin still has what it takes to carry a film. To her credit, she doesn't "glam" up her character but still has plenty of charisma. She's a consummate actress and her performance here is admirable. It's just a pity that its contained within a miserable movie about miserable people who treat each other in a miserable fashion.
The Sony Blu-ray contains an audio commentary track with the principals, a cookie-cutter "making of" featurette in which everyone extols the virtues of the people they worked with, a Q&A video from a screening of the film with Tomlin and Elliot and an original trailer.
The year was 1970 and John Wayne was riding tall in the
saddle- both on screen and off. The Duke had recently been awarded his only
Oscar, winning the prestigious honor for his triumphant performance in the 1969
film adaptation of the best-selling novel "True Grit". His first move following
his Oscar win was “Chisum”, a dramatic and exciting Western based on
the Lincoln County Cattle War of 1878 in New Mexico in the days before the territory
gained statehood. Wayne plays the titular character, a legendary cattleman who built an empire that stretched for many miles and employed a significant number of the local population. Chisum was the "big dog" in New Mexico but his power was threatened when businessman Lawrence Murphy began encroaching on his business interests. Ironically the trouble started, not over cattle, but over the control of dry goods. Murphy and his partner James Dolan had a government contract that allowed them a virtual monopoly on selling goods and beef in the area. When a rival general store opened, Chisum backed it and set in motion the events that led to the five-day war which escalated after Chisum found out that Murphy had been responsible for the theft of some of his cattle. The events are played out in "Chisum" and they include some larger-than-life characters including Billy the Kid (Geoffrey Deuel) and Pat Garrett (Glenn Corbett), who were on friendly terms when they worked for Chisum. Years later, Garrett would be the lawman who hunted down and killed Billy. Although there is a good deal of artistic license taken in terms of historical events, screenwriter Andrew J. Fenady has most of the basic facts straight- and why not? The real-life drama was every bit as compelling as any work of fiction.
Wayne wanted a strong film for his Oscar follow-up and "Chisum" fit the bill. It reunited him with frequent collaborator, director Andrew V. McLaglen and included a stock company of actors who were old personal friends including Bruce Cabot, John Agar, Ben Johnson, Ron Soble, Christopher George and Ed Faulkner. It also marked a reunion of sorts for Wayne with his co-stars from the 1949 film "Sands of Iwo Jima" which included Agar, Forrest Tucker and Richard Jaeckel. Wayne also gave small roles to Christopher and John Mitchum, the son and brother of his old pal Robert Mitchum. The film is exceptionally well cast with Tucker in especially fine form as Lawrence Murphy. It took an actor with considerable screen presence to stand up to John Wayne and seem credible and Tucker fits the bill perfectly. Their antagonism starts out as personal insults but as Murphy buys off the local sheriff, William Brady (Bruce Cabot) and orchestrates the killing of competitor Henry Tunstall (Patric Knowles), events escalate rapidly. Billy the Kid takes matters into his own hands and murders Sheriff Brady in revenge for the killing of Tunstall, who was a father figure to him. Tensions rise and the film climaxes with a terrific sequence that starts as a massive shoot-out in a general store and finishes up with Chisum personally leading a stampede of cattle down the main street and engaging in a knock-down fist fight to the death with Murphy.
"Chisum" is intelligently scripted and represents one of the finest accomplishments of both Wayne and Andrew V. McLaglen. Shot in Mexico, it also features superb cinematography by the legendary William Clothier, who bookends the film with dramatic images of Chisum sitting astride his horse, enjoying a size-appropriate cigar while proudly overlooking his massive spread of land from atop a hill. Wayne is outstandingly good in one of his finest screen performances but the supporting cast is also excellent with nary a weak note. There are so many interesting characters and historical facts involved in the story that you wish there was another half hour of running time to do justice to the events depicted. Among the film’s fans was President Richard Nixon who said that, while he didn’t see many movies, he very much enjoyed “Chisum” very much and thought that Wayne was a “fine actor”. He went on to give an extended "review" of the film and said that it represented how law and order is the backbone of American democracy and nowhere is that depicted better than in the Western film. The movie enjoyed strong reviews and was a major hit for Warner Brothers.
Warner Home Entertainment has released a special edition of "Chisum" on Blu-ray and the transfer is gorgeous. The extra bonus features from the DVD edition have been ported over including a commentary track from director McLaglen who provides fascinating first-hand accounts about the making of the movie (though he does erroneously state this was his third collaboration with Wayne. In fact it was his fourth following "McLintock!", "Hellfighters" and "The Undefeated".) The Blu-ray also features an excellent vintage "making of" documentary that puts the film into historical perspective. There is also an original trailer. In all, an impressive Blu-ray release of one of the best Westerns of its era.
American ex-Presidents occupy a unique place in society. They represent the smallest, most elite club on earth. Each of the living ex-Presidents has known the bizarre ritual that results from transforming from the most powerful person on earth to someone with absolutely no legal powers in the amount of time it takes the new President to swear to the oath of allegiance. An incumbent President in a deeply divided nation can consider themselves to be successful if poll numbers show they left office with an approval rate of the mid-40s or higher. However, the best way a President can make poll ratings soar is to simply leave office. Traditionally the American people, and the world at large, views ex-Presidents from a saner, more nuanced viewpoint and inevitably their reputations improve with time, largely because they are mostly seen doing good deeds and raising money for charities. The ex-Presidents club has also seen some unexpected friendships develop due to the fact that only someone who has served in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Oval Office can possibly relate to what his peers have gone through. Thus we saw President George H.W. Bush form a close bond with President Bill Clinton despite the fact that it was Clinton who deprived Bush of a second term. Word has it that the two men have almost a father/son relationship. Consequently, Clinton and President George W. Bush are said to enjoy a very cordial relationship. When Clinton was in office he served as the unlikely vessel that afforded President Richard M. Nixon a degree of public redemption by calling upon him for advice relating to foreign policy. President Gerald Ford also formed a very close friendship with the man who defeated him, President Jimmy Carter. The two traveled the lecture circuit in a quixotic attempt to convince Americans not to demonize people simply because they disagreed with their political beliefs. Yes, we tend to love our Presidents- as long as there is an "Ex" prefix before that designation. However, it's doubtful many would love ex-Presidents Russell P. Kramer and Matt Douglas, the protagonists of the 1996 political comedy "My Fellow Americans". Directed and co-written by Peter Segal, the film takes a promising premise that ends up being more fun in theory than it is in execution.
The film opens with Kramer (Jack Lemmon) and his successor-in-office Douglas (James Garner) being summoned to the White House to participate in an event to be presided over by incumbent President Haney (Dan Aykroyd). Neither man wants to be there, as they both detest Haney (who was Kramer's Vice-President)- but not more than they detest each other. En route to the conference, they insult each other constantly using language that would embarrass a Marine drill instructor. Both of the men have their annoying eccentricities. Douglas is a skirt-chasing womanizer (remember Bill Clinton was in office when the film was released) and Kramer is a penny-pinching tightwad who tarnishes his reputation by whoring himself for big bucks by making a speech a in front of Japanese executives (President Ronald Reagan had been lambasted for doing the same thing when he left the White House.) When they arrive at their destination, the real plot device kicks in. Turns out Haney is corrupt and details of a kickback scheme with a defense contractor are about to be unraveled by a snooping reporter. Haney and his equally corrupt staff get to work to concoct a scheme whereby Kramer will be framed as the real culprit and Douglas will be the top suspect in the murder of the defense contractor. Things go awry, however, when Kramer and Douglas manage to escape and go on the lam. They nearly die in a helicopter crash before being stranded in rural America with sinister "Men in Black" types hunting them down. Almost penniless and virtually helpless without their servants and security force, the two men become like a pensioner political version of Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in "The Defiant Ones". They need each other to survive but can barely tolerate the other man's presence. The scenario is wide open for some great possibilities but director and co-writer Segal can't quite capitalize on the opportunities. Given the fact that the entire story premise is absurd, Segal manages to ratchet up even more absurdities until the film feels enough like a comic book that I expected the Marvel name to appear in the credits. By foot and car, the Presidents wander through the American heartland like modern Woody Guthries. Along the way they encounter an Elvis Presley impersonator, a former sexual conquest of Douglas (who doesn't believe it's really him), endless chases by Haney's Gestapo-like assassins and high speed car chases. They predictably learn a life lesson about the nobility of everyday Americans and the struggles they endure. The whole improbable mess comes to a climax back at the White House where, for reasons far too laborious to relate here, the ex-Presidents end up being chased on horseback in an attempt to reveal the truth about Haney, who is in the process of honoring members of the Dutch Resistance (!)
"My Fellow Americans" does have some pleasurable aspects and moments. Lemmon excels in playing "Odd Couple"- like scenarios largely because he starred in the film version of "The Odd Couple". The film would have been more enjoyable if he had his usual co-star Walter Matthau with him but it is fun to see Lemmon and Garner square off against each other. There are also a few funny one-liners and modestly amusing scenarios including a surprising revelation at the end but Peter Segal's leaden direction ensures that no scene lives up to its potential. There are a number of good character actors in supporting roles ranging from Lauren Bacall (largely wasted), Wilford Brimley and, most amusingly, John Heard as Haney's handsome but dumb-as-an-ox VP (a not-so-subtle jibe at the legacy of Dan Quayle in the days before Sarah Palin would emerge to take the mantle.) One of the problems with the script is that it is so intent on not offending anyone's political sensibilities that the obsession with being "middle of the road" becomes annoying and pretentious. Thus, there is no bite to the jokes. For every knock against the GOP there is an equivalent knock against the Democrats. For example, in one scene the hitch-hiking ex Presidents are picked up by a destitute family who live in their car. We make sure we learn how both parties adversely affected their lives. The point of the scene is to show the Presidents humbled by these simple but honest people, but the film presents these noble characters as kind hearted idiots who believe Mount Rushmore is a natural rock formation. As I've written before, Hollywood screenwriters always believe that if they want to show an honest patriot, it has to be in the guise of a Gomer Pyle-type, unsophisticated idiot from rural America. It's the ultimate back-handed compliment. The other cliche readily apparent in the script is that all the dapper, educated and sophisticated characters tend to be crooks, schemers and murderers. Isn't just possible that a "real American" can also be sophisticated, patriotic and educated? Such are the predictable aspects of this lumbering comedy. I will say that the film is quite interesting in an unintentional way. Although released only twenty years ago, it's shocking to see how primitive technology was. No one seems to have a personal computer and there isn't a single cell phone seen anywhere, illustrating just how rapidly these devices came about and changed people's lives.
"My Fellow Americans" isn't some disaster and one hates to be a Grumpy Old Man about any film featuring Jack Lemmon and James Garner (who gets to replicate his jump from a speeding train from "The Great Escape" in this film). It certainly has some moments that afford minor laughs but the movie would have been better off delving completely into the Theatre of the Absurd in the manner of the "Naked Gun" and "Airplane" movies.
The Warner Archive has released the film in widescreen format for the first time. Previously, it was only available in pan-and-scan. Extras include the original trailer and a mildly amusing selection of bloopers that mostly focus on Lemmon cracking up on the set.
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Some actresses' performances can be much admired while others you virtually devour. I devour any performance by Bette Davis, who often elevated even middling films to something akin to high art. Such a case is evident in her cult classic Dead Ringer, a 1964 thriller that allowed Davis to give a tour de force performance in a dual role. The film itself has a hokey concept, that of two estranged identical twin sisters who are reunited with deadly consequences. Yet, Davis' former leading man and Now, Voyager co-star Paul Henreid directs this otherwise minor screen effort with great style, affording Davis one of her best late career performances. As Edith, Davis is seen as a down-and-out owner of a skid row bar who is facing financial ruin. She is reunited with her rich sister Margaret at the funeral of Margaret's husband. The two have not been on speaking terms ever since the self-absorbed Margaret stole Edith's rich lover and seduced him into marrying her. Invited to Margaret's mansion, the sister's bitter rivalry gains new momentum. Edith ultimately concocts an audacious scheme whereby she will murder Margaret and then switch identities with her, in the process masking the slaying as a suicide. As absurd as the premise may sound, director Henreid and Davis bring enough gravitas and tension to these scenes that the plot plays out quite credibly. Predictably, Edith - now posing as Margaret- encounters a minefield of challenging situations. Although she looks and sounds exactly like her deceased sister, the two women had vastly different personalities and habits. Part of the fun is watching Edith having to constantly improvise to escape exposure by suspicious housekeepers, servants and old friends of Margaret. The boiling point comes when she is "reunited" with Tony (Peter Lawford), an ambitious social climber who had been Margaret's lover and boy toy. Tony is anxious to resume their love affair. Edith/Margaret is clearly delighted to inherit her sister's handsome lover, but soon realizes that she can only bluff so far before being found out. Adding to her woes is the investigation led by her own former boyfriend, a police detective (Karl Malden) who is the antithesis of Tony: he sincerely loved Edith and wanted to marry her. The irony, of course, is that his investigation of the suicide has him in constant contact with Edith, though he believes he is dealing with Margaret.
Dead Ringer is consistently entertaining throughout and the glorious black and white cinematography and Andre Previn's Bernard Herrmann-like score only add to the pleasure of watching this quaint thriller unfold. The performances are all excellent but no one can hope to match the site of Bette Davis slapping around Bette Davis. The Warner Home Video Blu-ray release of the film features a new featurette about the making of the movie and interview with film historian Boz Hadleigh, who also provides a commentary track along with Charles Busch. Hadleigh provides some great anecdotes about the film and gives the movie and its participants the respect they deserve. There is also a vintage production short about the mansion house where much of the movie was shot. It's quite interesting to see rare behind the scenes footage of Henreid at work with cast and crew.
The movie is a grand showcase for one of Hollywood's most legendary actresses- and the Blu-ray presents Ms. Davis at her very best.
MGM has released the 1969 film The File of the Golden Goose on DVD. Yul Brynner top-lines the crime thriller that plays more like an espionage movie. Brynner portrays American Treasury agent Peter Novak, who is sent to London to infiltrate and bust a major ring that specializes in spreading counterfeit U.S. currency. Novak is assigned a young Scotland Yard detective, Arthur Thompson (a very effective Edward Woodward) and the two men enact a scenario where they are ultimately taken in as part of the gang by mobster front man George Leeds (always-reliable character actor Walter Gotell). The film is unremarkable on most levels, but the script is intelligently written and there is some genuine suspense when Novak begins to suspect that Thompson is adapting to the mobster lifestyle for real. Brynner makes for one of the most inimitable leading men of his era, constantly bringing a sense of dignity and gravitas to what otherwise might be considered to be a B movie. There is also a very wry performance by Charles Gray, playing an out-of-the-closet queen who dabbles in counterfeit bills in between hosting orgies. The film was helmed by actor/director Sam Wanamaker, who makes the most of the extensive London locations. However, the movie's climactic shootout sequence involving a helicopter is a bit of a dud and suffers from poor editing. Nevertheless, any Brynner film deserves attention and The File of the Golden Goose is a more than satisfying thriller.
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Warner Brothers dug deep into their vaults to compile
this nostalgic and electrifying collection of vintage musical shorts featuring
some of the greatest names in entertainment history. The short films in this
six-disc set feature performances and appearances by Eddy Duchin, Harry Reser
and His Eskimos, Jimmy Dorsey, Ozzie Nelson, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, and
others, plus "Ramblin' Round Radio Row" films from 1932-35, and much
more. 11 hrs. total. Standard; Soundtrack: English.
(This is a region-free DVD release)
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Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Aug. 1, 2016 — For
Immediate Release — The Golden Age of Musicals features 17
fabulous, classic films from the genre’s peak era, spanning two
decades from 1937 to 1957, in a five-disc DVD collector’s set, available
Aug. 9 from Film Chest Media Group.
The emergence of sound technology sparked a natural expansion,
taking the musical genre from the stage to the big screen. Multiple camera
angles, the ability to shoot at various locations and the use of lavish
background scenery that would be impractical in a theater allowed filmed
productions to outshine live performances.
Interest in musicals increased dramatically in the
mid-1930s when director Busby Berkeley (Take Me Out to the Ball
Game, The Gang’s All Here, For Me and My Gal) began to enhance
traditional dance routines with his unique style. His creative numbers
would typically begin on stage, then gradually transcend
the limitations of theatrical space by filming from above, capturing
dancers forming kaleidoscope-esque patterns.
As the motion picture industry grew with the development
of special effects, increased quality of film technology and the introduction
of color, the musical genre experienced sustained popularity for decades.
The Golden Age of Musicals boasts more than 25
hours of song, dance and comedy that will dazzle and entertain, from slapstick
to romance to over-the-top opulence. Featuring the best films and biggest stars
of the era, including Fred Astaire in Second Chorus, Danny
Kaye in The Inspector General, Bing Crosby and Bob
Hope in Road to Bali, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in At
War With the Army, Judy Garland in Till the Clouds Roll By and many more, The
Golden Age of Musicals is a must-have collector’s set for fans
new and old!
The Golden Age of Musicals is presented in full screen with
an aspect ratio of 4 x 3 and original sound.
In his review of "Jack of Diamonds", New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther dismissed it as "strictly low-grade "Topkapi". He only missed the mark in one respect: I would argue that it is more low-grade "To Catch a Thief". The 1967 crime caper stars George Hamilton as handsome and inanimate as a mannequin found in the window of a posh 5th Avenue department store. At least no one can ever accuse him of putting the "ham" in "Hamilton". Hamilton plays Jeff Hill, the world's most notorious cat burglar. When we first see him, he's using a rope and pulley to enter the penthouse apartment of Zsa Zsa Gabor (!), who plays herself. While old Zsa is sleeping, Hill manages to abscond with her valuable jewels- but, ever the gentleman, he leaves her a message telling her how much he enjoys her films (which means Hill has immaculate taste in jewels but not-so-great taste when it comes to the cinema.) Ms. Gabor is one of several real-life celebs who play themselves in the film. The others are Carroll Baker and Lili Palmer, each of who are victimized by the elegant, gentlemanly thief. The cameos are a pretty transparent gimmick to add a little more glamour to the production, which was produced by a West German film company and released theatrically in the USA by MGM.
Hill lives a Hefner-like lifestyle in a lavish mansion replete with all the trappings including a gymnasium complete with a trapeze which he uses to stay in shape so he can utilize his signature style of entering high buildings using the tactics of a human fly. We soon learn he has a mentor who goes by the name of "Ace" (Joseph Cotten), as he was once the world's greatest jewel thief and was known as "The Ace of Diamonds". He still acts as a wise sage for Hill, advising him on the dos and don'ts of certain potential capers. Hill soon finds that he has a competitor for some of the same jewels. Turns out it is a female cat burglar, Olga (Marie Laforet), who has her own mentor, Nicolai (Maurice Evans), a dapper dandy who also was once a famed jewel thief. Nicolai has concocted a plan for the ultimate theft and wants Olga and Hill to join forces to carry it out with he and Ace acting as advisers. This gives Hill plenty of time to make time with his new sexy partner but there is virtually no chemistry between Hamilton and Laforet, partly because her character is largely window dressing and is not fleshed out in the slightest in terms of being given a background. Nicolai's plan requires stealing some famed jewels from a seemingly impenetrable museum but just to learn their precise location it will require the cat burglars to break into a safe located in the headquarters of the Paris police. Achieving this daring goal, the foursome then turn to the main event: the robbery of the jewels. They are racing against time against an international police organization (presumably based on INTERPOL) that is doggedly trying to track them down and stop future robberies. The organization's point man is Von Schenk (Wolfgang Preiss), a charismatic German who pursues them with the zeal of Inspector Javert.
"Jack of Diamonds" is yet another film from the Sixties that looked anemic in its day but probably plays better now. The film tries to present some glamorous European locales but much of it is achieved through the over-used stock footage that MGM had in its vaults at the time. (A scene supposedly shot atop the Pan Am building in New York features what may be the worst rear screen projection effect I've ever seen.) Still, the offbeat feel of the film is somewhat enjoyable and the script allows a Bondian air in which the pursuer and the pursued match wits while enjoying each other's company and sharing fine cigars. George Hamilton makes for a strikingly handsome leading man even if he's a bit short in the charisma department. The real fun is watching old pros Cotten, Evans and Preiss trade barbs and witticisms. It's the kind of dialogue that is rare in contemporary thrillers. The caper aspects of the production are carried out adequately by director (and former actor) Don Taylor and if the entire enterprise stacks up as "Hitchcock Lite", it's an enjoyable romp throughout with nary a dull moment and a bizarre but infectious score by Bob Harris and Peter Thomas (bizarre because it is the only time you will ever seen a filmed ski chase that combines jazz music and yodeling.)
The Warner Archive has released the film as a region-free DVD title. There are some inconsistencies with the color quality but overall it's an acceptable print, though I suspect it may not be presented in its original aspect ratio. This version seems to be matted but I could be wrong. The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer.
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In the estimation of many film scholars the 1970s was the most adventurous and liberating period in the history of the medium. The new freedoms in regard to sex, violence and adult themes that had exploded in the mid-1960s became even more pronounced in the '70s. Among the most daring studios to take advantage of this trend was United Artists. The studio had been conceived by iconic actors in the silent era with the intent of affording artists as much creative control over their productions as possible. UA had continued to fulfill that promise, producing a jaw-dropping number of box-office hits and successful film franchises. The studio also disdained censorship and pushed the envelope with high profile movie productions. The daring decision to fund the X-rated "Midnight Cowboy" paid off handsomely. The 1969 production had not only been a commercial success but also won the Best Picture Oscar. A few years later UA went even further out on a limb by distributing "Last Tango in Paris". The studio fully capitalized on the worldwide sensation the movie had made and the many attempts to restrict it from being shown at all in certain areas of the globe. Like "Midnight Cowboy", "Tango" was an important film by an important director that used graphic images of sexual activity for dramatic intensity. Unfortunately, not every filmmaker who was inspired by these new freedoms succeeded in the attempt to mainstream X-rated fare during those years that the rating wasn't only synonymous with low-budget porno productions. Case in point: screenwriter John Byrum, who made his directorial debut with "Inserts", a bizarre film that UA released in 1975 that became a legendary bomb. The movie has been released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time as a limited edition (3,000 units).
The claustrophobic tale resembles a filmed stage production. It is set primarily in one large living room in a decaying Hollywood mansion. The time period is the 1930s, shortly after the introduction of sound to the movie industry resulted in the collapse of silent pictures (Charlie Chaplin being the notable exception.) The central character, played by Richard Dreyfuss, is not named but is referred to as "The Boy Wonder". From our first glimpse of him we know we are seeing a man in trouble. He is unkempt, dressed in a bathrobe and swizzling booze directly from the bottle. We will soon learn that he was once a respected mainstream director of major studio films and was revered by Hollywood royalty. Now he is a has-been who has resorted to making porn movies in 16mm in his own home. (Yes, Virginia, people liked to watch dirty movies even way back then.) He is entertaining a visitor, Harlene (Veronica Cartwright), a perpetually cheery, bubble-headed young woman who was once a respected actress but who, like Boy Wonder, has fallen on hard times. She is now a heroin addict who earns a living by "starring" in Boy Wonder's porn productions. They make small talk and some names from the current movie business are bandied about. Harlene tells Boy Wonder that a rising star named Clark Gable is said to be an admirer of his and wants to meet him. Instead of responding favorably to this news, Boy Wonder seems unnerved by it. The implication is that he is locked in a self-imposed downward spiral and lacks the self-confidence to attempt a real comeback. Harlene also needles him about his sexual prowess. It turns out that the king of porn films has long been impotent for reasons never explained. As they prepare to film some scenes Harlene's male "co-star" (Stephen Davies) arrives. He is nicknamed Rex, The Wonder Dog, which seems to bother him especially when the Wonder Boy uses it to intentionally disparage him. Like Harlene, Rex is short on brains but is physically attractive. Boy Wonder seems to have a real resentment towards him, perhaps because Rex is a powerhouse in bed while he can't get anything going despite directing naked people in sex scenes. It becomes clear that if Boy Wonder and Rex don't like each other. Boy Wonder ridicules Rex for performing sex acts on male studio executives who he naively believes will help him become a star. However, their relationship looks downright friendly compared to the interaction between Harlene and Rex. When Rex is a little slow in becoming physically aroused, Harlene mocks him mercilessly. This results in him essentially subjecting her to a violent rape which thrills Boy Wonder, who captures it all on film. Harlene doesn't appear to be any worse for the wear, however, and blithely says she's going off to a bedroom to rest.
The household is next visited by mobster Big Mac (Bob Hoskins), the man who finances Boy Wonder's film productions. He is accompanied by his financee Cathy Cake (Jessica Harper), a pretty young woman who seems to have a particular interest in the forbidden world of pornography. Big Mac and Boy Wonder also hate each other. Big Mac berates Boy Wonder for making his porn flicks too esoteric and artistic for their intended audiences who just want a cheap thrill. However, for Boy Wonder the porn films represent the last opportunity he has to demonstrate the cinematic style and camera angles that once impressed critics and the public. In the midst of their arguing, it is discovered that a tragedy has occurred: Harlene has died from a heroin overdose. Everyone seems nonplussed by the news and Big Mac's only concern is to ditch the body somewhere quickly. Turns out Rex has a part time job in a funeral parlor and can arrange for a gruesome plan in which they dump her body inside a grave that is being prepared for another person's funeral the next day. The plan is to dig a bit deeper, bury Harlene, then place a layer of dirt over her and have the "new" body placed on top of hers. As Big Mac and Rex leave to "undertake" this sordid task, Boy Wonder finds himself alone with Cathy Cake. She wants to use the time to have Boy Wonder film her in her own personal porn movie since Big Mac would never let his "fiancee" do so with his knowledge. She finds the idea of sex on film to be a stimulant but Boy Wonder won't have any of it. He knows that Big Mac's volatile temper and ever present bodyguard could result in him being the next corpse in the house. Cathy Cake tries another tactic and feigns interest in Boy Wonder. He lets his guard down and gradually is seduced by her. She even manages to cure his impotence but the tryst turns ugly when she learns he has not filmed it. Boy Wonder soon discovers that his renewed pride and self-respect is to be short-lived when it becomes clear that Cathy Cake actually loathes him and was only using him in order to fulfill her porn movie fantasy. The ploy works to a degree- her attention to Boy Wonder reawakens his sexual prowess but when she learns the camera wasn't rolling, she cruelly tells him that she only used him for selfish purposes. With this, Big Mac and Rex return from their horrendous errand and catch Boy Wonder in bed with Cathy Cake. The situation becomes dangerous with Big Mac threatening to kill Boy Wonder and things only deteriorate from there.
According to the informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo that accompany the Blu-ray, Richard Dreyfuss seemed to have a personal obsession with this film. He was very involved in all aspects of its production and remained defensive about the movie after its harsh reception from critics. The movie's complete rejection by reviewers and the public might have hurt his career but Dreyfuss already had "American Graffiti" and "Jaws" under his belt. Soon he would also star in another blockbuster, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" followed by his Oscar-winning performance in "The Goodbye Girl". The fact that so few people ever saw "Interiors" actually worked to his advantage. However, whatever motivated him to become involved in this bizarre project remains a mystery. It's an ugly tale about ugly people doing ugly things to each other. If there is a message here, I didn't receive it. There isn't a single character you can identify with or sympathize with. They are all self-obsessed cynics with no redeeming traits. That leaves us with whatever values the performances afford us and it's a mixed bag. Dreyfuss is miscast. He was twenty nine years-old when he made the film and, despite his sordid appearance which ages him considerably, he is still far too young to portray a once-great movie director who has fallen on hard times. John Byrum's direction of Dreyfuss is unsteady. At times he encourages him to underplay scenes while at other times he has Dreyfuss chew the scenery mercilessly. Similarly, Stephen Davies plays the brain-dead hunk Rex with flamboyantly gay characteristics one minute then suddenly transforms into a heterosexual stud the next. Bob Hoskins in what would become his trademark tough-guy gangster mode but gives a solid performance. The best acting comes from the two female leads with Veronica Cartwright especially good as the ill-fated Harlene. Jessica Harper also does well in her thankless role. Both women seem at ease in doffing their clothes and playing much of their scenes in a provocative state. Cartwright even goes full frontal for the violent sex scene with Rex while Harper spends almost the entire last act of the film being photographed topless. Curiously, the willingness to appear nude onscreen was considered the epitome of female emancipation in films during the 1970s but the practice has largely become frowned upon in more recent years. In fact the days are long gone when virtually every major actress had to appear naked on screen. Today, female emancipation is the ability to play erotic scenes on screen without having to be completely compromised.
A while back I caught a film I vaguely remember having come and gone upon its initial release in 1974, a crime thriller titled The Destructors (aka The Marseilles Contract). The film flopped when it opened but I felt it had to have some value given the leading roles were played by Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn and James Mason. I was pleasantly surprised to find this to be a first-class action movie. The plot finds Quinn as the head of the American Drug Enforcement Agency in Paris. He's obsessed with bringing crime lord James Mason to justice but is hampered by red tape. When Quinn narrowly escapes an assassination attempt by Mason's thugs (in a very exciting and creatively staged sequence set in a Paris railroad station), he decides to take matters into his own hands. Quinn hires old friend Michael Caine, of late a charming hit man, to "off" Mason before another attempt can be made on his own life. Caine uses his charm to seduce Mason's sexpot, jet-setting daughter (Alexandra Stewart) in order to win the confidence of her father. Before long, Caine is an indispensable employee of Mason's and willingly peforms "hits" for him in order to boost his credibility. The plot takes plenty of twists and turns with unexpected developments and double crosses occurring on a regular basis as the three principals play cat-and-mouse games with each other. Director Robert Parrish keeps the action flowing and stages some exciting chase sequences. One, arranged by the famed Remy Julien, was obviously the direct influence for the opening car chase in the James Bond movie GoldenEye. In this film, Caine introduces himself to Stewart by challenging her to a high-risk car chase in the hills of the French countryside. The two cars become obvious phallic substitutes in a high speed mating dance. Sound familiar? In GoldenEye, the scene is repeated almost verbatim with Pierce Brosnan and Famke Janssen in the hills above Monte Carlo. (Not coincidentally, this scene was also staged by Julien, so he can't be accused of ripping off anyone's work but his own.) The film has some terrific locations, with primary action filmed in and around Paris and Marseille. In fact, even the interiors appear to shot in actual locations - there is nary a studio shot to be found.
The real joy of watching The Destructors (unfortunately, the title sounds like a Marvel comic), which ably directed by Robert Parrish, is the chemistry between Quinn and Caine, two old pros with different onscreen personas who play marvelously off each other. Add in the always-wonderful James Mason and a very winning performance by the sensual Alexandra Stewart, and the film emerges as one that should have certainly met with a better reception than it enjoyed at the time. There are some other aspects to recommend including the literate script by Judd Bernard and a good score by the reliable Roy Budd. Hell, there's even an impressive cameo by Pierre Salinger, President Kennedy's scriptwriter!
Reversible sleeve poster art.
Kino Lorber has released the film on Blu-ray and it looks terrific. Bonus features are the original trailer and a trailer for Michael Caine's third and final Harry Palmer spy thriller Billion Dollar Brain, also available from Kino. The latter trailer appears to be a work print that has been making the rounds for years, as it lacks any credits or even the film's title. A nice additional bonus is the inclusion of a great mini poster for The Destructors on the reverse side of the Blu-ray sleeve.
have to be honest and admit that my entry point for the Women In Prison film
genre was at the sleazy end of the spectrum. I caught the grubby little Linda
Blair movie Chained Heat (1983) on cable in my long ago youth and was suitably
appalled – appalled enough to watch it in stunned horror at least three more times.
So as I grew older and saw more of these types of movies my idea of what a WIP
film would or could be became solidified around the 1970s and 80s version of
the genre. I'm sure you'll forgive me if I thought that they were little more
than delivery mechanisms for visions of various forms of lesbian sexual
activity, shower room violence, petty torture acts and other harsh bits of
business. Yeah, yeah- the occasional film might make noises about reforming the
horrible conditions on display but mostly the filmmakers were just wallowing in
gratuitous exploitative excess in the name of making a buck. Not that there is
anything wrong with that, in my opinion. But imagine my surprise when I first
encountered older WIP moves that couldn't fall back on showing a shower roomful
of naked, large-breasted ladies. What would be the draw? Wouldn't the lack of
such graphic elements cripple the film? What the hell is this? A film about
women locked up in a prison that actually has a good script? How did this
(1950) tells the sad story of 19 year old Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker). She has
been sentenced to a stretch in prison because of a bungled armed robbery
committed by her husband who was killed during the act. She insists that she
had nothing to do with crime but she was convicted as an accessory
nevertheless. To make matters for her worse, her prison entrance physical
determines that she is two months pregnant meaning she will give birth while
incarcerated. Marie has trouble adjusting to the harsh world of the women's
prison and struggles to find people she can trust. She meets professional
shoplifter Kitty Stark (Betty Garde) who says once Marie gets out, Kitty will
get her a job in her line of work. Kitty recruits for organized crime on the
outside and promises the young girl an easy life if she learns this criminal
trade. Marie does not want to get involved in crime, but Kitty explains the
realities of prison life clearly and events prove the 'booster' right. It is
explained to her that she can be paroled after nine months, but over time Marie
sees prisoner after prisoner being granted parole but then not released from
jail because no job has been arranged by their parole officers. After one such
prisoner kills herself the reality of her situation begins to become
apparent. Adding to her despair is the sadistic matron Evelyn Harper (Hope
Emerson) who decides to single Marie out for attention when she refuses to play
along with her money making schemes. By the time Marie gives birth to a healthy
baby and is forced by the state to grant full custody to her mother she has a
small bit of hope that she will be granted a parole to be with her child. But
when her mother gives the baby up for adoption against Marie's will she snaps
and makes a feeble try at escape.
many films of the genre, the prison in Caged has an authority figure that is
actually sympathetic to the plight of the ladies under her care. The great
Agnes Moorhead plays Ruth Benton, the reformist prison superintendent trying to
get evidence against the cruel Harper while simultaneously attempting to help the prisoners find a pathway out of
their dead end lives. Benton is as lenient with Marie as she can be but soon
she has to punish her when her actions become less justifiable and more like
her more hardened cellmates. When the now toughened Marie emerges from a moth
in solitary she finally takes violent action against Harper and shows that she
has given up hope of following the straight a narrow path to parole. She's
going to get out of prison no matter what she has to do once she is on the outside.
I might have expected the reformist slant taken by this film, I wasn't
expecting a 1950 movie to be so daring in talking about the nastier aspects of
prison life. All the mean spirited subjects that I have come to expect from
later entries in the genre are here. Yes, they have to turn away from
gratuitously showing the lesbian relationships and vicious violent acts but
those events are in the story and not hidden behind the prudish restrictions I
expected. This is a classic social commentary film and it firmly places the
blame on the prison system for turning Marie into a career criminal but it
still manages to show that she chooses the easiest way out of her predicament. I
was surprised by the ending of this movie and pleased by its high quality
across the board. Caged is a very good film regardless of what you might think
of prison stories and this might be the film to introduce new viewers to Women
In Prison movies. It gives a sense of the unforgiving nature of the genre while
saving the harder stuff for later.
Caged! is a available through the Warner Archive. The DVD includes the original theatrical trailer.
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“Bad Man’s River” (1971) may be one of the most-unappreciated
spaghetti westerns that Lee Van Cleef ever made. This bizarre comedy-western
directed by Eugenio Martin (as Gene Martin) languished for a long time in the dollar
DVD bin at your local video store after having fallen into public domain. Most
reviews indicate that the DVD was a mess, and that the movie itself was one of
the worst films Martin, and Van Cleef ever had anything to do with. Well,
thankfully, Kino Lorber has rescued “Bad Man’s River” from the video trash heap
and released a good wide-screen transfer of the movie on Blu-ray. It may not be
among Van Cleef’s top ten all-time best movies, but it isn’t that bad either.
In fact, it’s pretty entertaining.
Martin, best known for the cult-horror classic, “Horror
Express” (1972), worked from a script by Hollywood veteran Philip Yordan.
Yordan previously had turned out some great screenplays for blockbusters like
“El Cid,” and “King of Kings”, cult favorites such as “Johnny Guitar,” film
noirs such as “The Big Combo” and “The Chase” (reviewed by Cinema Retro on May
13, 2016), and dozens of others. For “Bad Man’s River,” it appears that Yordan
decided to write a story that was basically a Looney Tunes send-up of the usual
spaghetti western plot. In essence, this comes down to: one character double
crosses another and they both get double crossed by somebody else, and on it
goes until the big gundown at the finale. In this case it’s a woman who does
all the double dealing, and what a woman she is—Gina Lollabrigida.
Van Cleef plays bank robber Roy King. He and the three
members of his gang (which includes Gianni Garko as Ed, Simon Andreu as Angel,
and Jess Hahn as Odie) rob a bank by digging underground up into the vault.
They make their getaway by train and split up, after which Roy runs into the
beautiful Alicia (Lollabrigida). She knows he’s got some loot, so she convinces
him to marry her on the train. (She conveniently happens to travel with a
preacher.) After the ceremony, she asks him if there was any insanity in his
family. Martin pulls the camera back from a tight close up of Roy and we see
he’s in a straight-jacket. Next thing he knows he’s in a mental institution. (See
what I mean by Looney Tunes?) But it’s no problem. He’s a dynamite expert and blasts
his way out of the funny farm and rejoins his former gang members to pull
another job. Turns out the woman behind a plan to blow up the Mexican
government’s stash of munition’s hidden in an old mission, is none other than Alicia.
She’s married to a Mexican politician now named Francisco Paco Montero (Daniel
Martin). When Roy first reunites with Alicia she says, “I’ve been expecting
you.” Roy says, “I had a hard day at the office.” She says “It’s big of you not
have hard feelings.” And he replies, as he’s taking off his clothes, “Your need
was greater” as he hops into the sack with her.
She introduces him to her new husband and they plan the
job, for which Roy and his gang will make ten grand. They blow up the mission
but guess what? There’s no ten grand. Alicia explains the real plan to Roy. Now that they’ve blown up the munitions, the
Mexican government will send $1 million to Montero ostensibly to buy more guns.
But of course, once they got the money they’ll all split it up. But there’s yet
another twist when Roy discovers the guy who was supposed to be Montero really
wasn’t. He was a double. The real Montero is James Mason, with one of the worst
Spanish accents ever preserved on film. He sounds like a Mexican by way of
So at this point we’re only two-thirds of the way through
the movie. The rest involves more double crosses, that include the leader of
the Mexican Revolutionaries, Col. Enrique Fierro (Sergio Fantoni), who falls
another victim of Alicia’s charms. It all sounds pretty tedious, but if you
roll with it, and take it for the satire that it at least tries to be, you can
get some laughs out of it.
Van Cleef does well with this rare stab at comedy, even sporting a
dorky hair piece and a derby. It seems like everyone had a pretty good time
making the movie. Lollabrigida was a bit past her prime, but still sexy and just
the right age for Van Cleef. She’s very convincing as a femme fatale of whom
one character says: “She isn’t afraid of anything, except poverty.”
Kino Lorber presents the film in a 2.45:1 widescreen
aspect ratio, which does justice to the 35mm print shot in Franscope. The audio
is an adequate 2.0 lossless mono soundtrack. The eccentric soundtrack by Waldo de los Rios,
which includes everything from rock music to abarbershop quartet, is
well-presented. A lot of people
criticized Rios’s music but I thought it fit the totally wacky premise of the
whole movie, which I suppose you could sum up as “Cherchez la femme”—spaghetti western-style.
You have to hand it to ol' Jack Warner- he knew a good thing when he saw it and he also had an uncanny ability to replicate success. Following the Oscar-winning triumph of Warner Brothers' "Casablanca" in 1942, Warner, as the main mogul of the studio that bore his family's name, managed to capture lightning in a bottle again. Warner recognized that the unique chemistry among key cast members resulted in the success of "Casablanca". Not only had Humphrey Bogart proven to be credible as a romantic leading man but he was surrounded by some remarkable supporting actors: Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre among them. His first priority was to re-assemble much of the cast for another WWII-themed film project. Warner was a master at milking the same cow when it came to cinematic success stories. Following the success of "The Maltese Falcon", he quickly cobbled together "Across the Pacific" for "Falcon" stars Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet. Now Warner had Bogart, Greenstreet, Rains and Lorre in mind for "Passage to Marseille", which would not-so-coincidentally be directed by Michael Curtiz, who had helmed "Casablanca". For good measure, Warner ensured the film would also benefit from a score by that film's esteemed composer, Max Steiner. For good measure, Warner cast actress Michele Morgan as the female lead. Morgan had originally been considered for the role of Bogart's lover in "Casablanca", but the part ultimately went to Ingrid Bergman. Topping things off, Warner peppered the new film with appearances by other reliable alumni from "Casablanca" in supporting roles- and even made sure he had a character in a Bogart-like hat and trenchcoat meeting up with Claude Rains on an airport runway! For all his enthusiasm about the project, "Passage" was a troubled production. It had been kicking around the studio for quite some time and had been in pre-production a full six months before filming began. Additionally, Humphrey Bogart was not enthused about the movie and argued with Warner that he would rather star in a film titled "Conflict". Warner had demanded that Bogart drop out of that production to star in "Passage" with the intention of replacing him with Jean Gabin. Ultimately a compromise was reached and Bogart would eventually star in "Conflict", but not until 1945.
The film is based upon a novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, who were best known for writing "Mutiny on the Bounty". As with that film, this one deals with a troubled ocean voyage and a mutiny. The plot is very wide-ranging and employs the unusual device of relating events as flashbacks-within-flashbacks. Although director Curtiz does manage to keep things comprehensible, the bouncing back and forth between time periods does require the viewer to pay close attention. The film opens at a secret Free French air base located in rural England. A reporter, Manning (John Loder), is doing a story about the efforts of the Free French forces to help free their homeland of German occupation. He meets with the commander of the base, Captain Freycinet (Claude Rains), who briefs him about military operations and takes him to the runway area where pilots are readying for another bombing run over occupied France, the irony of which finds the pilots having to destroy parts of their own country in order to free it. A particular, somber pilot catches Manning's eye. Freycinet explains he is Jean Matrac (Humphrey Bogart) and he relates his remarkable tale to the reporter. Matrac was the publisher of a political gazette in France that was critical of what he felt was the government's appeasement policies towards Nazi Germany in the months before the war broke out. Ignoring warnings to tone down his criticisms, Matrac continues to criticize elected officials but he pays a steep price for his courage. Government-hired goons raid his offices and destroy the place, killing a man in the process. Matrac is then framed for the man's murder and he finds himself on the lam with his lover Paula (Michele Morgan). With the police closing in, the couple marries shortly before Matrac is finally arrested. He is sent to the French penal colony known as Devil's Island where he and his fellow inmates suffer inhumane abuses and backbreaking work in dangerous swamps. Matrac and four fellow convicts are approached by an elderly fellow French inmate, Granpere (Vladimir Sokoloff) who can arrange for them to make a daring escape by boat- on the proviso that they promise to fight to free France from German forces. The men agree and make their escape but become becalmed in the Caribbean. They are rescued by a steamer ship captained by Freycinet, who immediately suspects the men are actually escaped convicts and discounts their story about being fishermen who were trying to return to fight the Germans. Also suspicious is the obnoxious martinet, Major Duval (Sydney Greenstreet), who represents the French military presence on the vessel. Duval is a turncoat who is demanding that the ship keep on its original course and return to France, where he intends to collaborate with the German government. This doesn't sit well with Freycinet and the escaped convicts, who lead a mutiny that overcomes Duval and his men. The ship then sails to freedom in England where both Freycinet and Matrac join the Free French forces. However, Matrac is a haunted and despondent man because his beloved wife and their young son he has never seen continue to reside under German occupation. Every time he flies with his crew on a bombing mission over France he makes a detour on the way home so that he can fly over their farm and drop a personal message to them.
The wide-ranging scope of the story keeps things moving at a fast clip despite the convoluted plot and abundance of supporting characters. Bogart is grim and somber throughout, with none of his trademark quips or wiseguy cracks on display. The fact that he is playing a Frenchman is a major distraction because he keeps all the Bogart mannerisms in place. He gives a solid performance but isn't believable at all as a French nationalist. Fortunately, his co-stars such as Peter Lorre (as a fellow convict), Greenstreet and Rains are more convincing. There are engrossing scenes in the penal colony (actually California locations) and some very interesting characters that populate the goings-on. There is also an exciting action sequence that takes place when the convicts lead a mutiny but a technical flaw finds the steamer ship rock solid in the water, apparently oblivious to any movement the waves or rolling of the ocean might seem to cause. Rains is as solid and commanding as ever, Lorre and Greenstreet chew the scenery as only they can and Morgan makes for a perfectly suitable romantic interest for Bogart. "Passage to Marseilles" isn't a classic- and it's sentimental final sequence is telegraphed almost from frame one- but it is solid entertainment with a sterling cast.
The Warner Archive Blu-ray ports over all the intoxicating extras from the DVD special edition. They include:
Trailer for the Errol Flynn WWII thriller "Uncertain Glory"
A historical discussions with scholars about the role of the Free French in WWII
A compilation of gag reels and bloopers from vintage WB movies that is more interesting than amusing.
A Chuck Jones WWII-themed cartoon "The Weakly Reporter" that centers on wartime deprivations and rationing.
"Jammin' the Blues", a Oscar-nominated short that showcases African-American jazz greats in concert
"I Won't Play", a corny short film depicting American G.Is in the Pacific, one of whom alienates the men in his unit because of his constant bragging about his musical prowess and his friendship with a major female film star (who just happens to pop by in the jungle to entertain them!)
Various vintage newsreels including one cringe-inducing short that depicts attractive WACs being shown military training techniques in an era long before women would prove they could do these things as well as men. Here, the young ladies are treated like fish-out-of-water, afraid to break their heels while giggling at the obstacles the men have to overcome in training.
In all, an irresistible package for any retro movie lover.
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"Gun the Man Down" is yet another Poverty Row low-budget Western shot during an era in which seemingly every other feature film released was a horse opera. Supposedly shot in nine days, the film is primarily notable for being the big screen directing debut of Andrew V. McLaglen, who would go on to be a very respected director who specialized in Westerns and action films. The movie also marked the final feature film for James Arness before he took on the role of Marshall Matt Dillon in TV's long-running and iconic "Gunsmoke" series. After failing to achieve stardom on the big screen, Arness found fame and fortune in "Gunsmoke" when John Wayne recommended him for the part. Wayne had been championing Arness for years and provided him with roles in some of his films. Following "Gunsmoke"'s phenomenal run, Arness seemed content to stay with TV and had another successful series, "How the West Was Won". John Wayne was one of the first actors to successfully launch his own production company, Batjac, which produced this film and Wayne's influence is felt in the project. Andrew V. McLaglen was the son of Wayne's good friend and occasional co-star Victor McLaglen. The screenplay was written by Burt Kennedy, who Wayne would later hire to direct several of his own films. The movie provided young Angie Dickinson with her first role of substance and she would reunite with Wayne years later on Howard Hawks' "Rio Bravo". Speaking of which, another Wayne favorite, character actor Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez appears in both films. Also in the cast is Harry Carey Jr. , son of Wayne's idol and and personal friend, Harry Carey. The cinematography is by William Clothier, who would lens many of Wayne's later movies and the film was produced by Duke's brother, Robert Morrison. "Gun the Man Down" is very much a Wayne family affair.
The film opens with three fleeing bank robbers: Rem Anderson (James Arness), Matt Rankin (Robert J. Wilke) and Ralph Farley (Don MeGowan), who arrive at their hide-a-way cabin with the law in hot pursuit. Rem has been seriously wounded and Rankin makes the decision to leave him behind. Rem's girl, Jan (Angie Dickinson), objects at first but Rankin convinces her to go with them in part because they have $40,000 in loot from the local bank. The law arrives at the cabin and arrests Rem. He is nursed back to health and is offered a deal for a light sentence if he helps track down his confederates. Rem refuses and does his time in prison. Upon release, he begins his mission vengeance and tracks Rankin, Ralph and Jan to a one-horse town where Rankin has used his ill-gotten gains to open a profitable saloon. Upon discovering Rem is in town, Rankin hires a notorious gunslinger, Billy Deal (Michael Emmet), to assassinate him. Jan has a tense reunion with Rem and seeks his forgiveness but her pleas fall on deaf ears. Rem emerges victorious over Billy Deal and Rankin, Ralph and Jan flee town with Rem in pursuit. Their final confrontation takes place in a remote canyon with tragic consequences.
Given the film's meager production budget, "Gun the Man Down" is a surprisingly mature and engrossing Western with intelligent dialogue and interesting characters. (In addition to those mentioned, there is a fine performance by Emile Meyer as the town sheriff). Arness projects the kind of macho star power that Wayne had and Dickinson acquits herself very well as the stereotypical saloon girl with a heart of gold. The film, ably directed by McLaglen, runs a scant 76 minutes and was obviously designed for a quick playoff and fast profit. It has largely been lost to time but the Olive Blu-ray release puts in squarely in the realm of hidden pleasures. Fans of traditional Westerns will find nothing very new or innovative here, but the film does hold up as solid entertainment. The Blu-ray includes the original trailer.